Oh some do say the farmer’s best (But I must needs say no…)

It is the 7th of January…


In 1998 I spend the day in Shrewsbury, taking advantage of the sales to buy cheap Carry On videos in Smiths. In 1999 I slog up from Newport to Longford for Games (It didn’t occur to me to simply bunk off that sort of thing for another nine months). Conversation as we trekked up the lane mostly consisted of discussing Buffy, which was the style at the time.

In 2000 I produce the second edition of The World, one of the succession of fake newspapers I used to cobble together in Publisher in preference to getting something above a D for my compulsory GCSE in DT. It was this sort of thing that eventually spawned KTAB News.

In 2001 I happily invest the day playing Civ II.

In 2002, having finally ceased to use a 486 as my primary computer, I spend it playing Deus Ex.

In 2003 I mope about in the wake of a breakup.

in 2004 I spent the evening talking to Ruth on MSN.

In 2005 we’re reduced to talking by phone as she recounts her adventures getting to Mauld’s Meaburn, inaccessible due to floods.

In 2006 I take a driving lesson in Aberystywth with Mike who points out that I’m driving too close to the kerb.

In 2007 the photograph is falling from my hand I exhaust myself at the half-tech rehearsal for the Panto in Wallingford.

In 2008 I take a Welsh lesson with Islywn and spend the evening making a shortlist of wedding venues, with brochures spread across the living room of the Uberflat. The shortlist boils down to Rowton Castle, Walcot Hall and Madeley Court.

In 2009 I spend the day working in Lending in Hugh Owen as part of my Graduate Traineeship.

In 2010 I lend Wendy a screwdriver so she can unjam her door in Caerleon.

In 2011 I stay up until 03:45 watching Star Wars and helping Ruth assemble the remarkably complicated birthday cake for Dan’s surprise party.

In 2012, no longer on Old Earth, we play Mansions of Madness in the kitchen of our much nicer house in Kennington.

In 2013, in the wake of the Jethrik incident I fire off a job application (I don’t get beyond the second round, although I’m even pleased by that): my interview for my current job is in two day’s time, and I’m frantically trying to work out what the job description requires.

In 2014 however, I spend the day in the John Radcliffe hospital, surviving mainly on stubbornness and the odd cup of sugary tea. I finally get to bed at 05:30, on the morning of January 8th. It was not a particularly fun day.

(In other news, there’s a lot to be said for building up a big pile of records you can refer back to in later years)


It’s probably become apparent to you by now that Tiny has made an appearance (and, as you might expect from my life, I made the first, proper, blog post about it on behalf of Three Rings). So far, she’s sleeping most of the time. I’m vaguely hoping that’s because she’s a naturally quiet and unobtrusive baby, rather than just because she’s very new, but we’ll see…

I’d like to put it on record that I am a very firm believer in the sensible, old-fashioned approach to childbirth wherein the father gets to sit outside in the corridor, pacing and taking cigars as he might feel necessary, and only has to put in an appearance once everything has calmed down. Sitting around making vague encouraging noises and trying to look reassuring while someone else is clearly miserable and in a tremendous amount of pain, it turns out, is not something I’m good at.

That said, everyone survived (thanks, first world medicine of the 21st Century!) so I have at least been spared a rapid descent into port-swilling gout, and the expense of getting builders in to construct a wall behind which I can order the garden be sealed off forever.


I’m sure Ruth will talk more about the actual experience of childbirth. I don’t remember overmuch of it, now, because it all tended to blur into one long, exhausting slog. I do remember that, somewhere around the 29-hour mark, I found myself gazing out of the window with a bass line stuck in my head on loop: it wasn’t until I was driving listening to music a couple of days later that I realised what it was:  Abney Park’s Scupper Shanty, which at least has the benefit of having a pretty apposite chorus.


Tiny is, fortunately, feeding well, and seems pretty happy and content. The midwives have largely been nice and helpful people, and barring the lack of sleep we’re all settling into the new rythm pretty well, I think.

Beyond that, I don’t actually have very much to say about her; I’ve been to the record office and officially registered the birth, so she does now exist (thank God we live this side of 1837!), and of course there was the obligatory photo that went with the 3R blog post… but I’m sort of feeling like my work here is done. And, to be honest, there’s probably a limit to how long anyone reading this can sit and nod politely at their monitor before it starts to feel socially awkward, so I might call that quits at this point.

Still, for those of you who do want such things, here’s a picture of me being left holding the baby:

As promised, a photo of me with the baby


As promised, JTA talks about work and badges.

OK, so last time I blogged I apparently promised to talk about my new job, and about having badges on my coat. And then because I had a new job, and was still doing voluntary work for Three Rings and the British Red Cross, I never really got around to it. And then I couldn’t blog about anything else because I’d promised to talk about having a job and badges, and the previous post didn’t seem like it was the ideal wall of text in which to make promises I then failed to keep. So here we go. You’re more than welcome to skip the “reading” part, I just wanted to get this done so as not to lie to the Internet.

I used to work for Blackwell’s Library Supply, and it was a not-completely terrible job, but the lack of human contact didn’t really suit me – the people I worked with were great, but it turns out that I’m actually slightly more likely to enjoy work when I feel like I’m directly helping people. Which is a surprise to me, too. Oh, and I worked 8-4 in a warehouse with no windows, which meant I got hammered by SAD the year we were living in a south-facing terraced house with windows on one and a half sides. Plus, it wasn’t a library, and having put in quite a lot of work to become an information professional, it seemed worth trying to get a job as an information professional.

So I sent a few job applications out, with the inevitable result that some people never wrote back, some really cool people got me along for interviews or just enough of the pre-selection process to make sure I was extra disappointed when things went no further… and one very nice employer not only invited me to interview but called me as I was leaving my dentist later that afternoon to ask if I minded very much if they took up my references. (I very much did not mind).

A few weeks later I missed a call whilst half way up an Alp, and discovered on calling back, that I had a snazzy new job. Hooray! Weirdly, according to the policies of the organisation I now work for, I cannot link to their website from my personal blog. (Which is a policy that has the capacity to be excitingly spec-ops-y, but sadly is not).

I can tell you that I work in public libraries, and I could if I wanted write out the URL of their website in full, or link you to another site whose sole contents were a link to their website, or link to a page of search results for their name with instructions to click the top link… but that feels a little bit like I’d be embiggening loopholes for fun, and since one of my other hats is the publicity side of things for the Three Rings project, I’d feel bad doing that.

Still I’m an information services librarian, and get to do a lot of work with social media which is terribly exciting, and with online and printed reference resources, which is also keeping me busy. And every now and then I help out on the reference desk and get to help actual people with actual research, so all is well! I’ve spent the past few months hammering away to get my CILIP chartership portfolio done (it’s currently away being reviewed by the board), so with a bit of luck I shall soon be the proud owner of a bunch more postnominals. Huzzah!

And that’s all there is to say about that, I guess.


Then we have the issue of putting badges on my coat, which I’ve been working on doing since the first Real Ale Ramble. Then I stopped for a while, because I got Miriam and consequently spent less time wearing a coat and more time driving, but as my coat usage increased during my Masters I started thinking about it again and I figure at some point in the future it’d be worth having a record of what badges got stuck on when and why. Because I actually am exactly that sort of hoarde-the-information-for-the-future kind of information professional. Sorry.


So, for reference, here are the badges on the back and left shoulder of my coat:

The badges on the back of JTA's coat There we see the original badge, from the Real Ale Ramble, surmounted by the flag of Shropshire (because if you’re going to have a county badge, it might as well be from the best county). Off below the Ramble badge is a patch I managed to get in Les Gets, the afternoon I received the job offer I mentioned earlier (so that’s clearly a good omen). It’s presently waiting to be offset by an NCR badge, which I’ve not got the time to sew on… And then on the shoulder there’s the inevitable “Look I am a geek and like BSG” badge, which has won me compliments from two different waiters and a cute girl in the Games Workshop on New Inn Hall Street. Good things, badges.

Betimes, over on the front of the coat, things get more involved:

The badges on the front of JTA's coatAt extreme left of this shot, and not quite visible at this angle is my Aberystwyth University crest, which is useful for confusing Oxford tourists under the impression it’s a college they’ve not yet seen from their open-top bus tour, and then there comes another BSG reference which suggests I’m capable of flying the Mark II Viper (old, low-tech and yet ultimately reliable right when you really, really need it to be, so it’s perhaps inevitable that I like it).

Probably the right way up (and once mistaken by a friendly chugger for the flag of a minor African state), is my Browncoats patch in the middle. (I have a coat, and it is sorta brown. There had to be a Firefly reference somewhere). Interestingly, nobody knows which way up these things go, because when Jos Weedon was asked he said “The point goes up”. I assume he meant the point of the star rather than the triangle, because the other way up looks strange and is, additionally, a pain to sew on neatly.

The KSLI bage I wear on account of it’s being my grandfather’s old regiment (although his sole advice to me for when I got conscripted – he died before anyone noticed what shocking collapsed arches I’ve got – was to “throw down all your kit when they let you out the landing craft” on the grounds that there’d be plenty to pick back up once you’d managed to flounder out of the shallows and into some cover). I once got approached by an in-retrospect grumpy old man who’s opening gambit was “You. I actually served in that regiment.” but I was so pleased to find someone who recognised it that I was half way through eagerly reminiscing and asking where he’d been before I realised he probably thought I was just wearing it on spec, and by that time he’d realised I wasn’t. So that was kinda nice.

Oh, and then there’s a modicum of assorted metal badges: one very old British Red Cross badge, two little badges that you get free with every x pints of blood, and a final BSG reference whereby I get to be in charge of a Battlestar. Should the opportunity present itself.


So there we go. I have duly fulfilled the promise of what my next blog post would be from last time. I suspect I just put that line in there so as to take the edge off the rest of the post, intending to pop back and lash together a quick post by way of pushing the miserable-looking Jethrik post further down the archive, but I never found the time. Still, with this patently uninteresting blog post now done I think we can count the blog decks cleared ahead of any Tiny-related blog posts I might feel the need to write, and that’s the main thing.

In other news, I have resumed playing LoTGD, and am happily ambling around in my third incarnation. It’s good fun, I still recommend it. But I’m not going to promise to blog about it next time. We’ll see how we go, I think.

CIAK Day-Per-Page Diaries: Paper quality

I’ve been keeping a diary since 1998. With the exception of some real shoddiness between late-2004 and 2006, I’ve done pretty well at maintaining a solid record, which is always satisfying. I started out with a Discworld Diary (and, on digging out that link, am mildly annoyed to discover that if I hadn’t written in it every single day for a year, it would be worth around £110, a sum I imagine is likely to be sorely diminished by my thirteen-year-old scrawl, at least unless I become famous). For quite a long time I was on WH Smith generic page-a-day jobs, which were perfectly acceptable in a choice-between-black-and-silver sort of way, and then I got fussy and started looking for cooler diaries.

Which brings me to Ciak. Ciak do colours which aren’t just black or silver (although they’ve no green. I want a deep green A4 page-a-day Ciak diary for 2014, man at Ciak whose job it is to trawl the Internet for reviews to translate into Italian. Grazie.), and they’re softcover leatherbound things, with a horizontal elastic band (which is rather more useful than the Moleskine vertical-band approach from a tucking-things-in point of view).

And they’re really good value – usually less than £20, for a handmade, leatherbound full-size diary. The paper is eco friendly (if you care about that sort of thing), and more importantly is acid-free (which you should care about, because if you go around keeping a diary on acidic paper it’ll begin to eat itself within the century, which is profoundly unhelpful).


The one criticism I kept seeing around the Internet was a consistent variation on ‘The paper quality is really low in these diaries compared to their notebooks. Ink bleeds straight through’.

Now, this is a problem. In much the same way that a CRT monitor with a refresh rate of <80Hz used to give me headaches, low-gsm paper is one of those things that’s horrible from both a tactile and an aesthetic perspective, especially since my writing is always smoother with a fountain pen. I was particularly bothered by this review suggesting the paper was only about 70gm. But I took a punt on a 2012 diary anyway, because I figured at the price I was paying I could risk getting uselessly thin paper and still have enough pennies left to get another black WH Smith diary if there was a serious problem, and the chance to get an orange diary was too good to not take the risk.

And, in the end, I was really pleased. As Paper Pens Ink observes, the ink does show through, even in biro, but it doesn’t do so in a particularly bleed-y way: it’s possible to see that something is written overleaf, but not to tell what it is, and it doesn’t make the current page unreadable. Sure, the paper could be a little heavier, but it’s not actually that much of a problem.


Anyway, by way of a better blog update than my last one, I thought I’d throw around a few shots of how Ciak diaries cope with fountain pens. I’m on a medium-nibbed Waterman, and I kept the ink pressure higher than I normally would in order to get as much ink on the pages as possible, but I think things turned out OK.

To begin with, here’s a shot of a page filled out (I’m working in the Notes section here, rather than one of the daily pages, but the line spacing is the same in both: pretty wide and with lots of space for both high and low letters. Occasionally a problem on super-busy days, but good enough for most things):


Ciak Diary page, written on one side

 (Assuming we can forgive me the apparently wonky writing – I was transcribing for speed rather than style! – we’ll see there that there’s no real bleeding going on, and the letters stay more or less where they were put).

Close up of section of page with very heavy ink flow

I really piled on the ink for this paragraph, which is why the ‘R’ of ‘Richard’ is so thick, but again you’ll notice that’s not really due to bleeding through the grain of the paper; the nib just dumped the ink down and the paper held it there until it dried.

The other side of a written pageThis is the verso of the page I’ve just written. You can see what Paper Pens Ink was talking about: the in’k from overleaf is clearly showing through (and the ‘Richard Hannay’ paragraph is particularly obvious). But…

Double-page spread, left page written on both sides…As you can see on the left hand side of this double-spread, once you’ve written on both sides of a page, you can’t really tell that the ink used to show through: the writing on this side of the page covers the bleed-through without affecting the legibility of either page.

Close up of heavily inked page written on both sidesHere’s our old friend the ‘Richard Hannay’ paragraph, now written on both sides. You can still see the top of the R showing through clearly, but everything’s still legible (even where I caught my little finger on the ‘tired’!)

I don’t disagree with the argument that Ciak could be using heavier paper in their diaries, but – at least for me – I don’t think it’s so thin that there’s a problem. The ink does show through the page, but that’s only really noticeable for as long as the reverse is blank. Once you’ve written on both sides of the page, the bleed-through isn’t really noticable, and, crucially, it doesn’t affect legibility.

For acid-free paper in a leather cover (and a snazzy looking leather cover at that), Ciak are pushing seiously good value at less than £20. If they were asking more than £30 quid, I’d say the paper quality wasn’t good enough for the price, not least because it’d be up against serious contenders in the £30 – £50 diary bracket, even before the luxury diary market kicks in (yes, there’s such a thing as a luxury diary market), but right now they work for me. Which, let’s be honest, is all I’m likely to worry about in picking out diaries.

Oh, and just in case anyone’s lagging behind in the identification-of-text stakes, what I’ve been transcribing there is the opening paragraphs of The Thirty-Nine Steps. Which is awesome, you should go read that.

I aten’t dead

I just haven’t updated my blog in months, because life is still keeping me super-busy (Oxford’s nice, but it’s much harder to sit around doing nothing than it ever was in Aberystwyth, because there keep being interesting one-off things to go and do!)

I stopped volunteering for FESS back in May and instead began working with BRC’s Event First Aid, and spent a couple of tremendously tiring weekends strapping slings, thumping Annies and getting carpet burns from being thrown in and out of the recovery position.

Most of my time got eaten up with preparations for the Three Rings Conference back in November (turns out that organising a conference is surprisingly hard work: I didn’t even know I had the stamina to pull two months’ of nineteen hour days!), but that went really well, and I also managed to scrape together some time to hit up the Edinburgh Fringe for a week and to take a short break in Jersey with Ruth (pro tip: Jersey closes at the end of October. Next time we’ll have to go in the summer!)

Plus, we’re still having people come down to Earth either for the big things like the Summer Party or for smaller games nights in the manner of Katie’s recent visit, so that’s all cool.

And we just shipped 180 Three Rings Christmas cards (with printed addresses rather than handwritten ones, thank goodness).

So, yeah, still madly busy, but looking forward to Christmas (not heard Fairtale of New York yet, but apparently it’s nearly Christmas anyway). And if we’re very lucky I might manage to write another blog post before we hit 2013…

The fish pie’s snoek, got it? Snoek.*

So, I think possibly I just panic bought fuel. That’s a bit disappointing.

I legitimately needed fuel, mind: since mostly Isis just commutes back and forth round the ring road for work and shopping I tend to keep less than a quarter of a tank in at any one time (because otherwise, it feels like I’m driving past two filling stations in four miles and burning fuel for no reason other than to carry the weight of extra diesel that I don’t need).

Normally I fill up all the way if I’m actually going off somewhere. But my warning light came on this morning, and I need to get to Reading in good time on Monday, which I could do by public transport, but I’m going for an interview for what is possibly the most awesome job for me in the entire South and I’d rather not risk my arriving on time to the tender mercies of First Great Western. So I figured I’d pop back out this evening and stick 20 quid or so in the tank, to tide me over.

We’re lucky, in Oxford, because you actually can get places by public transport: we’ve got awesome buses to London, and trains that aren’t as bad as others I’ve seen, and just about everything is flat so you can cycle. (I’ve been off cycling with my busted wrist, but helpfully got the green light from the physio just today so I can cycle in to work tomorrow, which is probably wise. Add to that the fact that Isis is pretty damn fuel efficient, and my expectation that things will be back to normal once the distribution infrastructure recovers from the beasting Maude lovingly doled out to it, and I figured twenty quid would see me right enough.

Which, probably, it would. But by the time I’d sat listening to the whole of Bottom Line, and the 9 o’clock news, and most of an interesting programme about whether or not rooks are as intelligent as apes, slowly creeping forward from Cowley junction to the Tesco filling station at what I genuinely believed would be a quiet point in the day, I rather thought I’d better fill up after all. Isis only has a 40 litre tank, and I put 39.11 litres into her, so I think I’m probably being more rational than someone who, say, sits with their 4×4’s engine idling for just as long as I did, and then drives away having only put in a tenner’s worth of unleaded, but I still feel bad about it.

However, I got to Tesco by way of Sainsbury’s, where the forecourt was closed for a tanker to unload, and when I got in and popped into the shop over the way I had a very nice chat with the guy who runs it (interrupting his stressed debate with the woman manning the till about whether or not they were going to have to charge VAT on some of their baked goods or not), and was able to clue them in to the possibility that they might have some fuel at Sainsbury’s, if the tanker had finished re-supplying them. That pleased me because apart from giving me the chance to Be Useful it felt reassuringly like the Shropshire grapevine where you might find out that Mr Pope was slaughtering a pig and maybe there’d be sausages in the offing, or perhaps a few cuts of lamb. All pull together, and what-not. Very Home Front, very sweet.**


Sigh. Like I say, bike tomorrow.


* Yeah, that’s a pretty obscure reference.

**That one too, probably.

What I Did On My Holidays

This post proposes to be bigger on the photos than the words, and brief nevertheless. Still, time I did an update.

Ruth & I postponed honeymooning after the wedding, going for a more traditional ‘save up for a bigger one later’ motif, which had the added benefit of giving us time to learn German first.

Then we decided not to go to Germany after all, and spent one week at a spa in Wales, and one in La Clusaz, a ski resort in France. I tried skiing in Chamonix with Gareth & Penny a few years back, and crippled my knees something shocking; given the unhelpful twist my shins make it’s about twice as much work for me to snowplough as it is for everyone else, which severely hampered my capacity to enjoy it.

Then last spring we went out to visit Owen in Meribel, where I continued to think the Alps are amazing, but was too busy with reading for my Diss to try and improve things (besides which, last year was afwul for snow late season). While we were out there, though, we met some awesome people who put the case that I should try snowboarding as something liable to combine the fun going-fast-downhill-with-spectacular-views bit of skiing with all the reduced horrific-boots-and-knees-discomfort of boarding.

So we took a couple of intensive jump-start lessons at Milton Keynes and duly headed out in search of some actual mountains.


After a lesson, and looking consequently tired. Also slightly distracted by the two people in the background who, if I remember rightly, couldn’t agree on whether or not Savoie belonged to the Nords.

Ruth & JTA at the top of Beauregard


It was really good. Button lifts confounded me all the first day, and I fetched myself a whacking great bruise when I came straight down on my tailbone, and when we had a powder day I had to take my hired board back for a wax, but Daniel, our awesome mountain/ice/anything that looks insanely hard work-climbing instructor did a really good job and I was doing pretty damn well by the end of our booked lessons on Wednesday (we wanted some free time to relax, too!). Plus there is something tremendously satisfying in going fast enough to create the sensation of wind whilst not on some mechanical thing.


I don’t remember exactly what Daniel (in blue) is saying here, but I am 100% sure it is either ‘tourne, tourne,’ or ‘compass!’. Awesome guy.

JTA & Daniel during a lesson

So aye, after a few years of feeling thoroughly grumpy because I wasn’t physically cut out for skiiing I have found a snowsport that fits! Give me a while to save up, and I shall have to get back out there (althoughI’m also thinking a post-season return to MK to keep my hand in wouldn’t hurt, either…)


Also, our chalet was awesome, which does make a difference. Plus, we got some killer views from the balcony, particularly in the sun towards the end of the week:

Just behind my head is the gondola up to the Beauregard Plateau, with the tail end of the long black run La Noire to its left. At right, the blue Guy Périllat also returns from Beauregard whilst Les Riffoids is a very gentle nursery slope.


JTA on a balcony with his arm in a cast


Oh… Yeah. Also I fell somehow and apparently rolled over my own wrist and fractured the only rarely buggered pisiform bone. Apparently you can tell it’s broken on an X-ray, if you avoid the pitfall my lovely French doctor fell into and don’t get too distracted by my weird knuckles.

Not Owning a lightbox, I had to jury-rig one with a velux window. I’m pretty sure there aren’t really any trees visible in my bones.

An X-ray of JTA's hand

Breaking the right wrist turns out to be a bit of a bugger, since my left arm is not only fairly malcoordinated but also unused to work, and liable to get tired quickly. And I can’t hold books properly at the moment. So I have bought a Kindle.

Mmm. We’ll see how that goes. But, in the event I turn out to like it, having one will save a significant quantity of luggage space next time we go out, which I can instead devote to the wrist guards they told my not to buy in Milton Keynes (don’t get me wrong, my doctor was awesome, but was totally cheated out of a run down Périllat, and that wants fixing…)

And that is what I did on my holidays. Which is a good title, because writing with my left hand does make it look like I’m back in Mrs Sutton’s class again…


John Cleland it Ain’t.

Potentially, NSFWish.

OK, I am elbow deep in Dissertation write-ups right now, and it’s getting to the point where I’m losing the ability to write, or indeed sleep without feeling guilty about not writing, hence the lack of blog, which is the Wrong Kind Of Writing. But I had to share this one.

Today, I found myself profiling two books two books which were just… ouch.

I am not convinced that “It’s just like Twilight, but with more sex!” ought to have been a winning sales pitch. But “It’s just like Twilight with some quite badly written sex!” ought to have got you shot.

It’s hard to write sex well, I guess. At least, the Internet seems to think so, and if there’s one thing the Internet knows about, I’m pretty sure it’s how to write bad sex scenes. But seriously…

Is it just me that thinks the phrases “Fisting his hand in her hair” and “As pleasure broke her into a thousand iridescent pieces” do not sit comfortably together? I’m pretty sure they don’t even sit comfortably on opposite sides of the room whilst staring intently at the carpet, personally.

Even so, I was holding it together, only to be made to burst out laughing by the end-of-scene paragraph which ran, verbatim, “And the kisses… he sucked and licked and nipped at her neck, her mouth, throughout, making her feel unbearably cherished even as he sexed her brains out.”

Oh dear.

It was going so well! And then you suddenly ran out of ideas and just finished like that. That’s just embarrassing, that is.

I seem to recall there’s an award for awful sex scenes. I should look it up and send them copies. Well, not copies, because that would increase sales of the damn thing, but I could email them the ISBN, or something.


I somehow missed the news that London Calling is being used to market the 2012 Olympics last week. But it’s mildly amusing.

Also, as long as we’re making total Regans of ourselves, can TfL please try to  reduce queues at underground stations by  marketing Oyster Cards to tourists by way of The Jam?

Good ol’ Ferrett!

Always there with a timely in-light-of-what-I-was-just-thinking essay! Here he is with thoughts on  love as the least valuable resource in a relationship, and how broken things can still work.

I like that guy.

Energy Supply Weekly Hi-Lo Lights

Well, last weekend was apparently my second annual destruction limit test. I actually got slightly more sleep than I did the last time I moved house – or, at least, I slept in bigger chunks – but I’m still feeling it. On the one hand, my knees still don’t hurt, because every other damn joint that moved is still complaining, and I seem to have developed a perpetual headache somewhere inside my right eye, but on the other hand I’m more or less functioning normally.

One of these days, I will get more than six hours sleep, and I can start buying back some of the debt I racked up this time round. In the meantime I’m in the minute-at-a-time equivalent of Zimmerman’s Valley. At least it hasn’t been all-nighters, this time (although the amount of heavy lifting there was, it might as well have been), and I’ve not done anything spectacularly stupid or dangerous, unless you count forgetting which side of the road I was supposed to drive on whilst returning a van on Monday morning.

The weirdest effect this time round has been a strange sort of short-term memory loss, not on the scale Dan managed, but still distinctly sub-normal: my job is pretty much ‘Electronic Blurb,’ and it involves a lot of careful study of books in order to describe them into a laughably antiquated fixed-field system, which is doing wonders for my ability to condense monographs into a little under 200 columns of data. Except for the past few days I reach the afternoon and find that I’m finishing the profiling of books that my boss has checked for me, and have no recollection of having seen them ever before. I must have, because my signifier number is in the right place, and the notes look like my style, and my boss isn’t the sort of person to throw completely random books at me (in case I get ’em wrong and we lose a sale, I suspect), so I must have done the damn things, but I’m not remembering doing them, or even thinking about them. That’s a bit alarming.

The coolest thing* so far, however, has been waking up on Sunday morning in the exact same position that I fell asleep in five and a half hours earlier. Not sure I’ve ever done that before. Now that I’ve unlocked the achievement, however, I’m pretty sure I never want to move house again. Except possibly to somewhere where the top floor is the Library out of Name of the Rose, which I just finished re-reading. I totally want one of those.

* At least, until I moved and discovered that all of me had pins & needles.

Anybody for a sprig of lilac?*

Here is a lovely video which I hope you’re already seeing all over the place:

What with the referendum coming up, I’m actually having quite a busy time (hence the re-reduced blogging frequency!) I’m glad of these past few long weekends, at least: I now have a first draft of my Literature Review away and awaiting comments from my tutor, which is very exciting, and I have also been out leafleting. A couple of weeks back, we were in Whitney, which was rather fun, and then on Saturday I invested a couple of hours handing out AV leaflets on Cornmarket, and occasionally explaining how it worked to people. Then I rounded things off by door-to-door leafleting Barton, just over the ring road, which was hot and tiring, but actually quite good fun. I haven’t leafleted for years, and even then it was only for Betta Bedrooms (Who appear, surprisingly, to still be in business. Assuming they’ve changed their logo a bit, anyway…) Then I’m lined up to do a bit of phonebanking on Thursday evening.

Generally speaking, I have to say, the results I’m hearing are fairly positive. There are a few “No” people out there, but I’ve not found that many, even in Whitney. And I suspect the media line that people are apathetic is just wrong; from what I’ve seen, people are very interested and very geared up, and it’s just the media that can’t be bothered to cover that. Still, it’s encouraging.

I honestly have no idea which way things will go on Thursday, I’ve not got enough of a sense of a national picture, but I’m actually pretty proud in the knowledge that if this referendum somehow turns into the Serenity Valley of modern political reform, it ain’t going to be because I was scared of a few blisters. Apart from anything else, I’m nicely buoyed up with genuine political activism, and I thought I’d lost my faith in that back in 2003. And it’s a buzzier feeling than I remembered, which is just awesome.


Nick Clegg: Face like a doorknob

(The title, there, is a Coupling reference, which I mention just in case you’ve somehow got through life without amassing a vast mental collection of useless soundbites. You weirdo.)

Wherein I ramble on about politics. And how, in all conscience, and in this day and age, could I attempt a political blog post without that I first encourage you to watch a 31-year-old satirical sketch?

I like that one. So, apparently does Dave “How many Blacks is Oxford holding up? One, count ’em, forty-, er, no, one” Cameron. Still, I find it’s occasionally hard to dislike Dave; he might be an arrogant rubberfaced Tory bigot, but he isn’t actually Michael Portillo. And, of course, he genuinely believes that fucking everyone over is the right thing to do. This is much nicer than the other way round, where you fuck everyone over, but endlessly carp on about how bad it makes you feel.

Incidentally, the other week saw The Guardian report that Nick Clegg showed his vulnerable side in an interview with Jemima Kahn. Or, for those of you who prefer your Internet without tautology, Nick Clegg gave an interview.

Movingly, he related how his children have been asking difficult questions like ‘Why are the students angry with you, Papa?’ That’s got to be a difficult thing to hear. No man wants to go home after a long day and realise that he’s brought into the world a child who can’t understand the six o’clock news. However, I think I’ve finally worked out the actual answer, which is to say, obviously the answer to the question is “Because Papa bleedin’ stabbed the students in the back after he promised them he was the sort of man who could be trusted with sharp objects,” but I think I’ve worked out why that became the answer: the silly bugger is trying to be nice.

The problem, really, is that Nick Clegg is a nice man in a silly position. I’m pretty sure he’s the first Liberal to manage that since little David Steel squeezed himself into the role of David Owen’s tiny pocket-puppet. Which in case you forgot, looks like this:

Ol’ Charlie Kennedy, now, or Paddy Ashdown, wouldn’t have got themselves into Nick’s position, I don’t think. For my money, they’d have reacted to an election result like the one we got last May by forming up a minority Government with Labour. It wouldn’t have got much done, I suppose, but it would have been a nice kick up the arse for all the people out there who thought that voting for their local Conservative candidate was somehow a magic vote for Cameron (of whom you’d think there would be none, but it bloody terrifying how many people out there don’t understand how the system actually works). And Menzies “Old Man In A Hurry” Campbell would have got himself into Clegg’s position, but the difference is he’d have enjoyed it, and zimmer-framed about with a great deal of determination and making speeches about how it was necessary to cut absolutely everything because a) we have no money, and b) he used to run races, and therefore ought to be in charge of everything.

But, no, Nick Clegg felt it was only fair if he palled up with the largest single party in the Commons, and he said he’d do that before it became necessary and so he felt he should when it did. That was actually very honourable, he gets points for that. He gets points, too, for ensuring that an agreement got thrashed out that didn’t entirely shaft him, which was actually very sensible.

But he loses nearly all those points immediately, because somewhere along the way Cameron seems to have convinced him that the important thing with a Coalition Government is to make sure there are no obvious divisions. Which is just crazy. Of course there are going to be divisions, that’s what a coalition is; a group of parties who unite in spite of their differences. Hell, you’d even get divisions if the Tories went and formed a coalition with UKIP (although admittedly, they’d probably be over who got to pull the triggers first). Divisions are a political problem if they appear within a single-party cabinet, because they suggest a lack of coherence and discipline, but in a multi-party cabinet, they’re pretty much what you’d expect to see.

More than that, they’re what you want to see. You want to be able to look at a cabinet and say “Well, I don’t agree with that either! I’m glad to see someone’s backing me up over there!”. We haven’t got that. What we have are hidden divisions, that nobody tells us about, and it’s left us without a sense of contrast. I believe there are differences, and they’re probably thumping massive ones, but we’re not allowed to see them because Dave has convinced Clegg that it would be bad for government if they were apparent. By which, of course, he means it would be bad for him, because if the Lib Dem MPs started to reject the party whips then Cameron would start to lose out.

Actually, of course, such gaps might be bad for The Government, but not for government in general. Politically, divisions in a coalition can be a very healthy thing; it should be possible for a government motion to fail because not enough MPs backed it irrespective of which parties are sharing power. It should be possible for a motion proposed under a coalition government to fail because some members of that Government instead unite with the loyal opposition to defeat the bill, and force the cabinet to re-negotiate with its own supporters in order to get something that better reflects the wishes of the parties, and the supporters of the parties, involved.

(And you need to be able to compromise on the fly, and to be seen to be compromising on the fly, because otherwise it’s a fast track to page 184 and nobody can tell the pigs from the bleedin’ farmers…)

So we’re in this absurd position of having got ourselves a coalition government that agrees on everything, even the things half of it don’t agree with. That’s why the students are angry at papa, little Clegglets. To the students – to everyone – it looks like Papa has teamed up with a man who wants to make everyone’s lives more miserable, and that Papa is jumping up and down with delight over it. The man doesn’t like it, you can tell he doesn’t like it, but he doesn’t have the balls to say that he doesn’t like it, because he’s promised Dave that he won’t.

(Whereas Dave, you’ll notice, is more than happy to run around telling everyone they should keep the superannuated excuse for a system that is First Past the Post, because only the immigrants, and the unemployed, and the bogeymen want alternative vote… but that’s an acceptable sign of division, to him because it divides Dave out in such a way that he looks good to people who like Dave, and if Dave is anything printable then he’s definitely a man keeping his monocle trained on his chances for the next General Election.)

I can’t think of any other explanation for Clegg acting like that. I thought for a long time that he was a bit of a Henry Collingridge, the weak and ineffectually well-meaning Prime Minister from House of Cards (which if you haven’t seen, you really should, because it is just amazing. I continue to offer up a choice of whiskies and sofas to people who want to come watch it on Earth, because it really is that good.) Francis Urquhart describes Collingridge’s greatest need as being “That people should like him,” which is a pretty good summation of a terrible damn flaw.

We had a Guild President like that while I was still an Undergraduate. Tremendously popular, quite leftist, and not at all the usual hack. No real grasp of what she wanted, so far as I could tell, so she was forever having to be told by people with their own agendas, and whenever you met with her so she could tell you that she was going to bugger everything up (and so you could patiently explain for the seventeenth time that she’d be doing nothing of the bloody sort, thank you all the same) she employed big sad eyes that said “Don’t hate me, I’m only doing what I’ve been told to do by people who are more devious than I am”, and then agree with you until she next met the people giving her dubious advice, when she’d back-flip. She was a really nice person, but frankly her methods didn’t improve the buggery as much as she thought they did.

Actually, though, I think that’s wrong; Clegg isn’t acting like Henry Collingridge at all. No, he’s acting like Geoffrey Booza Pitt, a cheerful bufoon whom Urquhart raises to office during The Final Cut, with the result that the Opposition nickname him “Sooty,” and make little glove-puppet mimes whenever he speaks. It’s terribly cruel on the poor chap, who’s actually very nice, and quite clever, and generally very well-meaning, but not at all politically nimble (whereas Urquhart really is. Seriously, if you still haven’t seen it either get a copy or let me know and we’ll try and fix it. ‘s only about twelve hours to watch all three series, and you’re allowed to take breaks now and then).

If you have watched the whole thing, here is a nice little video of Urquhart & Booza-Pitt together, which helpfully illustrates why a name like Sooty would stick…

Poor Geoffrey. And, indeed, poor Nick, because I’m pretty sure that the relationship dynamic with him and Cameron must feel pretty similar from time to time. When he isn’t being invited to posh Oxfordshire dinner parties, for example. But for all that, the man has actually given a really good interview; it feels like he’s starting to hint that maybe he might not be a Sooty after all, might just occasionally object to things on ethical grounds, even if he winds up asking people to back them for political reasons. If he could just start saying that sort of thing in public, I reckon that’d help his image.

I’m not even sure it would take very much of that to stop him looking like Cameron’s own Sooty, even now (although to be sure, he’s got a hell of a lead to pull back).

It’s got to be worth a try though; even if he can only make it to Sweep, that’d be a good start. At least Sweep had a squeaker.

Generic Racism

An interesting argument appears to have sprung up over the lack of black people in Midsommer Murders, which as far as I can tell is an excellent object lesson in not waving complicated concepts around without the technical skill to get the words right.

Producer Brian True-May told Radio Times ‘We just don’t have ethnic minorities involved, because it wouldn’t be the English village with them,’ trusted everyone to take careful note of the wording, and described his show as the ‘last bastion of Englishness’ on television. Evidently, people didn’t look at the words as much as they might have, because his comments are now generating all manner of entertaining huffiness, particularly from Omar Khan, and this guy who slightly undermines his comments by getting the name of the series’ lead character wrong. (In the interests of fairness, however, here is a much better reasoned examination of the interview from Hannah Pool).

Indeed, there was a rather stupid man on Today this morning – who disappointingly turned out to be Ash Atalla, the man who produced IT Crowd and Man Stroke Woman, and of whom I previously had a relatively high opinion – who was under the impression that 1) True-May was being horribly offensive to everyone, but that 2) it didn’t matter, because only old people like that show anyway, and that doesn’t matter because 3) they hate change, but soon they’ll all die.

Which misses the point so spectacularly that I suspected he must have been trolling, before I realised he was just being a patronising buffoon: “It’s aimed at a much older audience than me” was one of the gems in there. (Since this is coming from a man in his late thirties, I choose to retaliate by invoking the right of the twenty-something and describe him as a silly old fart who doesn’t understand what young people like.)

The point isn’t that ‘old people like Midsommer, and of course they don’t like to see black people, because they’re all racists who will die soon,’ but that the people in Midsommer don’t live (or die horribly) in a world with minorities in it. Personally, I would have thought that Midsommer’s unerring talent to rack up three dead bodies in the first half hour was a pretty good clue that it’s all made up, but apparently it isn’t quite good enough.

This bugs me because it implies there are a large number of people who seem happier to complain about the racism in a TV show than to understand the context in which the TV show is working. This is not a helpful way to argue anything; go down that road and you end up calling Saint Augustine an evil mysoginistic bastard because he claimed that a female foetus got its soul later than a male one, and also he never said that all women should have unfettered access to family planning provision. (Certainly he did claim the former, and it’s true he never said the latter, but we’re talking about a man from more than 1,600 years ago, and we’re determined to use that against him rather than taking the time to judge him in his own context).

I do think it should be noted then, that as far as I know True-May is not a loathesome racist scumbag, but a simple harmless chump who fails to treat words like the loaded weapons they are. He doesn’t mean – and did not say – an English village, but the English Village.

An English village = A village in England.

The English Village = The Rough Outline of a Village You Can See In Your Head When Told Someone You’ve Never Met Lives in An English Village.

And, more importantly,

The English Village ≠ An English village.

In a similar way, the term ‘Chinese Medicine’ is not used to conjure up the image of An Zhen Hospital. Instead it is used to conjures up the image of a friendly man sticking needles into your back so that your headache will go away. You could refer to one of the world’s leading lung transplant centres when you talk about wanting some ‘Chinese Medicine’, and you could use the phrase ‘the English Village’ to discuss the price of beer in the pub in Biddenden, but it’s not the first thing to which the signifier directs you. (Note that it is not a racist act to hear the term “Chinese Medicine” and think of the meaning ‘Old man with needles,’ although if you deliberately thought him into a Limehouse Opium Den, wearing a nehru silk jacket, and grinning wickedly as he stroked his Fu Manchu mustache, then it would probably become a racist act.)

We’re not talking of a given village, but of the idea of a village, the hazy concept that started to form a little after someone built one hut opposite another hut, but before Tesco arrived to buldoze all the cows and open a new store to compliment their out-of-town hypermarket.

That being the case, it’s not surprising that The English Village is exclusively white. For one thing, many actual villages are exclusively white, (because metropolitan areas naturally change their makeup faster than the sticks, and have more housing and more opportunities that encourage migrants to gravitate towards them), and for another The English Village is already a solidly established mental image.

It’ll vary from person to person, based on what villages they’ve spent their time near, but imagine an English Village. I need you to imagine it, because I want you to play a minor role in my upcoming stage adaptation of A Murder Is Announced, and I want you to get a feel for the role of the shocked householder discussing the advertisment with your neighbour as you stand in the garden.

(Not a big role, sure, but you come on right after the curtain rises, and it’s how we learn that an anonymous person rang the local paper and placed a classified ad to announce that a murder will happen later today, so it’s important we set the tone for the audience).

I believe that the majority of people, will find themselves imagining The English Village at this point. It might be very close to their village, if they live in one, but there’ll be elements drafted in from elsewhere to fill the gaps.

It’s probably got one bank, in solid yellow stone. Similar stone, albeit more roughly-hewn, makes up the drystone walls that hold back the blooming lilac trees in the perfectly tended gardens of the thatch cottages down Old Mill Road. A postman has leant his bicycle against a tree, down that way, and in the opposite direction are the two pubs, one of which fronts directly onto the Village Green, and lies directly opposite the stout square walls of the churchyard. The small local school will have been built around 1870, but it’s once garish red-tile roof has aged well, and almost compliments the new row of houses thrown up when the village expanded in the late 80s. There’s a 50% chance there will be a small river, with a narrow stone bridge over it, opposite the phone box, and there’s probably one greengrocer, a small independent newsagents, and a post office. These days there is unlikely to be a railway station, but before it was converted to a private dwelling under the Beeching Axe (which the older inhabitants still resent) it was the one you’ll recognise from Christmas cards, with a big green steam engine puffing away behind the red-faced carol singers on platform 2. And you don’t imagine more than three cars as your brain walks around it, because there isn’t a place for them in the picture, except perhaps outside the pub, and a small delivery van by the grocer’s.

That’s The English Village. It isn’t any one English village (although when I fill in all the pictures in description I can identify sources from at least five different villages I’ve known.) It’s a hybrid, pieced together to fit the genre of an Agatha Christie country-house murder, and for that reason, it’s bound by the limitations of its genre. In that sense, True-May’s right: about the only place for an ethnic face in the conceptual makeup of The English Village is during the 1920s and 30s, and she is the plump cook who works for the Ffinches up at the Big House.

Fiction just works like that. People write stories and we morph the framework to fit the words before us, until the picture looks right in our head. Brian True-May has a harder job than that, because he’s trying to put the picture into everyone’s head. And, because our brains automatically hide the joins from us, nobody really noticed everyone was white until he said so (although it probably helps that Midsommer is quite South Oxfordshire-y, which by 2001 data is 98% White British).

The English Village doesn’t have a monopoly here: I think Philip Marlowe encountered the occasional black man (never in a major role, of course) but 1920s California was a different setting (and even then, I don’t think he ever saw any Latinos or Orientals, though strictly speaking the mean streets should have been bursting with ’em). In the same way, Midsommer is not a fictional county where you will see Asians running shops, because all of the shops are built out of the same fabric as they used in the backdrop for St. Mary Mead, and that means Master Green the Grocer’s Son is getting ready to be the seventh generation of his family to keep his thumb on the scales.

The flip side of this is that whilst Midsommer Murders could just about be transported to Newport, it could never be transported to Hadley, or anywhere based on it. But, then, it couldn’t be transported to Miami, either, or to the ruins of Berlin in 1945. Stories are set somewhere, and you can’t just pull them out of their context and hope they’ll make sense. So Hard Times is never going to work if you decided to set it in Machynlleth, because it requires a grinding industrial hell, not an airy hippy town. Life on Mars wouldn’t work in a Midsommer setting, either, because whilst they’re both detective shows, they’re different kinds of detective shows. Swap Morse and Rebus’ beats, and they’d be left picking their teeth out of the gutter on the Royal Mile. Or copping off with the woman who did it before going home to listen to classic 70s rock albums over a takeaway from the Cowley Road. It wouldn’t work, and it’s not meant to.

It’s not wrong to present a story in it’s own setting, nor to be honest about what that setting is in the event that people haven’t noticed. What that means is that whilst there’s no reason that a character in Midsommer shouldn’t be from an ethinic minority, it isn’t necessary for the story to sit right. It can be done, and people wouldn’t notice if there were a black or asian character in their contemporary village murder-fest, but their presence or absence doesn’t affect the nature of the story or the setting (unless someone decides to do an episode centred on a racist killing, which would be far too gritty for the general ethos of the show), and in fiction it’s the story and the setting that are important. In that situation, it’s entirely reasonable that there hasn’t been such a character, because one doesn’t expect to see people from the ethnic minorities in The English Village. In an actual English village, sure, but not in the ethereal concept of one. One doesn’t expect to see jobless and impoverished Algerian nationals scraping by on the streets of Paris The City of Light, either, but there are plenty of them living in the suburbs of the real Paris, the one they keep in France, out of sight of the Hollywood cameramen.

The thing about genre concepts is we all carry them with us. It bugs me when people forget that, because it seems to be such an essential part of storytelling that it isn’t fair to ignore it when it suits you. And people are ignoring it when it suits them: if they’d really been bothered that the fictional death-raddled villages of Midsommer were unrepresentative of Britain as a whole, they’d have pointed out that there weren’t any black characters at some point in the past fourteen years, instead of waiting for the producer to tell them so, and then loudly condemning him for being out of touch with what Britain really looks like.

It’s OK that we didn’t notice, guys. We’re people, and we pattern match, and we see what we expect to see. ‘s the magic of fiction (and, as it happens, the magic of magic, too). It doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, and it doesn’t mean he’s a bad person. And it certainly doesn’t mean you should take your guilt out on him so that we can all see how very not racist you are.

Anyway, he’s the closest we’ve got to a celebrity round here, and he’s offered to give a speech to open the Jumble Sale in the Village Hall this Thursday, so leave him alone and help me put up this bunting, will you?

Counting for Something

Hooray, the Census is here! This is dead exciting, I love the Census. Mainly for its secondary purpose of “getting released to the public in a hundred years” rather than for the mass co-ordination of data the Government needs in order to best plan which public services are next on the tumbril, I’ll admit, but it’s still dead exciting.

Speaking as only the third or fourth generation of my family that’s actually been able to write their own answers to the census, as opposed to getting the recorder to stand in the doorway marking things down on their behalf, I love this stuff. I get to say that I’ve got a job, and a car, and a seven-room house, and everything. This is a massive step up on the 2001 census, when I was a waster student providing naff all in the way of exciting data for future generations to work things out from. I always find it very reassuring to be leaving a trail of handy pebbles for future generations to work from. No need to go making their lives difficult, at least.

On which note, speaking as future generation of my family, now seems like a reasonable time to point to the 1911 census. In 1911, my great-grandmother appears as Jessie Elizabeth Talbot, a resident of Aqualate Hall:

Aqualate Hall, taken some time in the 1900s

At 31 rooms, I’ve got to say it’s a bit of a step up on Earth, but odds are pretty good they didn’t have a car, so I guess it might balance out.  It’s actually only a little way out of Newport, where the bulk of my family ended up, but I’ve never been there, so I’ve no idea what it was actually like a hundred years back.

Actually, that’s not true, I know a little about what it was like in 1911. I suspect it wasn’t truly a 31-room house for a start; the above photo was taken some time prior to 1910, at which point the place burned down, and ended up looking quite… tired.

The ruined shell of the main building

I believe the stables and a few outbuildings survived, but the rest of it was left to decay for a while, before getting knocked down and eventually rebuilt in around 1927.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about that is that even with the building in the state it was in 1911, my great-grandmother was still living there, along with a handful of other staff, including a butler and gardener. This begs the question of where the Bougheys, who actually owned the place were staying. All very well shoving my great-granny in the stable block, but I can’t imagine actual rich people living like that.

That said, I imagine Jessie will have been relatively made up about whatever accommodation she was in, because it can’t possibly have been as cramped as her parents’ house, which apparently housed eight people in six rooms, which is not anything like enough rooms per person. (But then I’m entirely capable of feeling crowded when I’m one of two people in a warehouse, so I might be projecting a bit there.)

Meanwhile, over in Bedwellty, my maternal great-grandfather had thirteen people in six rooms, which is even worse. Although to be fair one of those was the three-month old Ida Margaret, so it wasn’t always that bad.

Even so, I have increased gratitude for the forthcoming size of New Earth, which gives us three floors to spread ourselves over, and thus greatly increases the chances that we’ll all make it to the 2021 Census in a fit state to declare that we have no serious disabilities, eg, having our legs chopped off.

(On a side note, I find myself mildly amused by the gentle schism that seems to have opened up between those Atheists that want to say they’re Atheist on the Census, because It’s Important To Be Accurate, and those who want to put themselves down as Jedi because It’s A Silly Game Anyway. I didn’t like the latter bunch ten years ago – not least because they showed a screaming misunderstanding of how the Census works – and it turns out I still don’t like them now. Apart from anything else, they seem to have swapped a screaming misunderstanding in favour of a slightly pointless public bickering contest, but then I say that as someone who doesn’t see the value in protesting a question anyway, let alone one that offers up all the ususal options and a box for “Other” in case you don’t have one of the major [a]religious outlooks. But, at any rate, it’s more amusing than the quasi-gentle schism that has Anglicans scurrying away to the Roman Catholics because they don’t like female clerics, which would be a far more dignified move if they didn’t keep stopping to shout “Look! See! I’m leaving! And I’m never coming back! Don’t try to stop me! I mean it! Look! You forced me into this! Look! I’m going! Over here!” every couple of months. ‘s a schism, dude. Damn things happen all the time. You ain’t special, you’re just trying to find a theology that fits for you. Like, y’know, everyone.)

In other news, I am looking forward to the next Murder Mystery. I have spent today distressing a pair of once vibrantly-blue jeans, which cost me £7 in Primark. They’ve actually come out quite well, given that I didn’t have any sandpaper, and had to make do with a knife and some bleach. (I don’t own any blue jeans, was the problem here, and I don’t especially like blue jeans, since there’s no way you can pretend they’re perfectly respectable trousers which happen to have a weird cut and tiny pockets, so I didn’t want to spend good money for someone else to bleach them). Was actually quite fun, and I’m fairly happy with my costume for this one, so ‘s something to look forward to…

And tomorrow I am going back to work, but the aforementioned work to level out the floor in my office has actually gone really well, so with a bit of luck I’ll be off the surprisingly noisy warehouse floor before Friday, even if it does take the IT people most of the week to come and move the computers for us*. So that’s nice.

*Yeah, for us. I am not sure why we can’t move them ourselves. Possibly there was a disaster where someone managed to move their computer and plug things in so as to connect the mains cable to their PS2 mouse and they exploded themselves and the company had to shell out three pounds sixty for a new mouse, or something. Something’s made the IT guys protective of the computers, anyway. Although I guess it could just be one of those quirks of attachment people develop after they spend ten years working with the exact same tools…

Out of kilter

So, the floor in my office is being flattened. Or it will be; I rather thought work was due to start on Friday, but apparently it hasn’t. But it does need to be flattened, because it’s got a very pronounced slope, dropping about two inches over the course of ten feet. That’s because it used to be the bit of the warehouse where the most dangerous chemicals were stored, and so it was built to ensure any spillages got themselves into the public drainage system fast enough to maintain plausible deniability. At least, I assume that’s why; as far as I can tell, the people who rented the warehouse before we did never actually stayed to tell anyone about the slope until we’d moved in and got the desks set up.

The actual leveling of the floor is probably a Good Thing, since it’ll hopefully make me feel less lopsided, but in the meantime, we’ve all been moved out to the main warehouse floor, which is proving to be really quite disconcerting. For one thing, it’s actually much brighter (thanks to the magic of grime-encrusted perspex panels in the ceiling) and I’m no longer used to seeing sunlight during working hours; I kept thinking it was home-time most of Friday morning. And, of course, it’s an awful lot bigger, and there’s much more background noise.

I’m not very used to background noise in a working environment, since Libraries are generally pretty quiet (students permitting, leastways), but at work there’s actually quite a lot going on in the way of packing and unpacking shipments, and wrapping things in squeaky clingfilm, and whatnot, which I’m not sure I’ll get used to. At least, I sort of hope I won’t get used to it; the floor adjustment is only supposed to last ten days, so in theory I won’t get a chance.

I’m blotting the noise out, however, with the help of a small radio, some headphones and Jack FM. I tried Radio 4, of course, but that was too interesting, and I kept getting distracted by what people were saying, so I had to pick something more musical, and less talkative.

I actually quite like Jack. I realise that’s a bit weird, what with it being commercial radio an’ everything, but I’ve discovered that whilst it markets like bad commercial radio, it actually sounds like good commercial radio. And whilst I generally stick to the talkier bits of the Beeb, I know whereof I speak. I never once worked a shift at the Union without Dido continuing to bemoan her tragic failure to buy in effective laundry detergent ahead of running up a bedsheet every hour on the hour, and when I was on night shifts at Tywyn James Bloody Blunt used to tell everyone how Beautiful they were once every twenty bastard minutes.

These people, in contrast, avoid repeats, and play things that genuinely good rather more than half the time. Actually quite good to work to. And as a bonus they mock Heart FM for having a six and a half song playlist, which I can definitely appreciate, since Heart is what the people on the other side of the warehouse play, and even a good song gets tedious when you hear it for the tenth time as you return from lunch.

The weirdest thing about it, actually, is still the adverts. Currently the MoD are running a chain of adverts which they have evidently decided are very catchy. I can’t find a version online, but it basically goes after this fashion:

We hear a general hubbub, and background noises suggest something heavy and metallic is moving about behind the microphone. Voices chatter. One voice rises out:

Gruff Man / Stern Woman: ‘Right, Charlie section, you’re guiding the convoy. Bravo, I need you guys to scout ahead and check the route’s clear. And you’re driving the lead carrier.

Dramatic pause

GM/SW: Yes, you. You listening to the radio. I need you here, now, guiding my boys.

Voiceover: Want a challenge? Find out more at

The first time I heard it, it confused the bejesus out of me, because the AS400 is not a very exciting computer screen, and doesn’t have a mini map, or an objective compass or anything*.

The second time I heard it, it made me wish they’d got the chap who voices Captain Price to do it (‘on your feet, Soldier! We. Are. Leaving!’), and the third time I concluded that my previous reactions, and the fact I like crisps, and have flat feet, and wouldn’t like killing people or being shot at, probably meant I’m not in the target audience.

Also, of course, being at the front of a convoy sounds like a bloody dangerous place to be. Closest I want to be to that sort of mess is the closing down of the access roads to the JR, thanks all the same. And that’s bleedin’ miserable enough, so I don’t quite see how the adverts are meant to divorce you from the memory of what passes by at the end of your streets every few weeks…

Still, it makes a change from the traditional “Look at all the things you can learn in the Military, it is exciting and you are unlikely to have to go and get blown up” line taken by adverts of yesteryear, so I suppose it might give people a nudge they wouldn’t otherwise encounter. Not sure that’s a good thing, y’ken, but it’s interesting from a marketing perspective.

* And on the computer work supply me with, switching to a second window is never faster than reloading.

Assorted Things

I had an eye test the other week; back at Batemans, who are awesome people and who’d actually managed to keep my details on file from my last test with them in 2007.

During this particular eye test, I discovered two things:

1) I cannot now read the second line of the chart without glasses. (And if the top line had been something less blatantly an A- a C or a G or an O for example – I don’t think I could have managed that).

2) I’ve jumped prescription again since my last go and need something stronger. Which explains the afternoon headaches I’ve been getting (which is good, because it proves I was right to make the ‘Cataloguing + Headaches = Bad Eyes’ association).

Interestingly, since I was told that my glasses are too weak for me, and that the headaches are almost certainly caused by the same, they’ve got worse. Sigh.

Stupidest Book So Far
One of the things I like about this sort of job is the massive boost you gain to general knowledge. Today, for example, I discovered that there is a provision in the LCSH for a classmark that translates to “Motion pictures, specific aspects, lesbian vampire films”. A product of the 1970s, apparently. And there was me thinking Bill Watterson just made those titles up…

The other thing I discovered today is that it’s possible to get published with even a completely retar- uh, rhetorical- premise. I discovered a book which plugged it’s contents by asking something like “Are some of Shakespeare’s heroine’s actually saying sexually obscene but funny lines?”.

For the one person on the Internet who has never seen or read Shakespeare, that’s rather like saying “Did Shakespeare write plays?” Or, more accurately, like saying “I haven’t really read Shakespeare before now, but I want to write a book and seem a bit risque”. Impressed I wasn’t.

Still, it could be worse. It could be an Amazon marketing ploy.

Customer Relationship Management FAIL
Amazon, as all the world knows, periodically send you emails to nudge you in the direction of offers. This normally involves getting an email that says something like “As somebody who has previously bought Flashman and the Dragon we thought you might be interested in Master & Commander,” or “People who have previously bought Black Books on DVD may be interested in our DVD Television Show Sale! Up to 80% off!!”

They’re enough of a nuisance that I’ve got them filtered to Mark As Read when they appear in my inbox, but they’re not sufficiently stupid that I Skip the inbox altogether, and sometimes I take a look at the contents, just in case there’s a genuinely good deal. It does happen.

So this was painfully shoddy, even for them:

Seriously, what the Hell? How does \'Buying Tintin\' equate to \'Wants Barbie\'!?

Seriously, what the Hell? How does 'Buying Tintin' equate to 'Wants Barbie'!?

Arbitrary Day: How I Got A Present After All!

This year I joined Reddit. I’m quite enjoying it, and it makes up for the fact I accidentally let my account on Legend of the Green Dragon finally lapse. It’s a nice friendly place (mostly, although some of the subreddits creep me out), and there’s a nice sense of community; apart from the odd crazy subreddit, and the occasional passing troll, there’s a real sense that we’re all nice people who look out for each other.

Not long after I’d set up, I started seeing links to Arbitrary Day, which is a sort of secret Santa thing, but run in the summer (I guess they picked the summer so Australians wouldn’t feel so left out when they opened their Christmas presents). Reddit had run an actual Secret Santa last Christmas, and apparently that worked really well.

It sounded like it might be quite fun to give a present to a completely random stranger, so I signed myself up, and said I didn’t mind shipping out to anywhere, and after everyone got matched up with a giftee, I wound up shipping to a lovely guy somewhere in Illinois. I got pretty lucky, I think: his short description made him sound like the sort of person you could get presents for quite easily, even in Aberystwyth: he was a teacher (so he got a nice mug from the Arts Centre) and he liked reading (so he got a copy of Aberystwyth Mon Amour) and he was in a band and played guitar and bass (so I figured he might like Richard Thompson, and Andy’s Records not only came up with the goods, but then decided it had been ages since Andy had heard any Richard Thompson, and started playing it over the loudspeakers.

I was quite pleased with it, really. It ended up costing more than the suggested cost of a gift, but that was alright by me, because I was taking a bit of a scattergun approach to the thing anyway to try and make sure the guy liked at least part of the gift. I wasn’t sure how long postage to America would take, so I sent it off early, figuring that he wouldn’t mind.

As it was I struck pretty lucky: he liked all of the gift – especially the CD, which he’d been meaning to buy himself – and as a Calvinesque bonus, my giftee’s son apparently spent most of the day playing with the bubblewrap I’d added to the box to keep things from getting broken. I got awesome warm fuzzies from that, and was quite looking forward to finding out what I’d get.

It turns out that what I got was, uh, nothing. Whoever got assigned to me checked my details and address the day before the official shipping date, but never confirmed shipping anything. I waited a few weeks, and nothing turned up. Then I got distracted by moving house, and once I was here on Earth I did a reformat and re-install of my system and so it was a while before I was back on Reddit.

After a while I raised the subject of what I ought to do about having not recieved anything (I wasn’t expecting anything huge, y’ken, but it would’ve been nice to have a mystery box to open, and evidently the bit of the plan where that happened had gone wrong). It turns out that with all the business of moving to Earth, I’d managed to miss a re-matching service, where people who hadn’t got gifts could arrange to get gifts.

This, however, is the point at which I get to boast about what an awesome community feeling you get on Reddit, because a guy I’d never heard from before sent me a message and offered to send me out a fresh gift, if I wanted. Awesome! (There followed also a bit of dancing around whether that would be fair on people, and the fact that I was probably not in the same country) but, nevertheless, I eventually got another message to say my replacement gift was in the post.

So, for your viewing whatzit, here, in Glorious If Fuzzy Cameraphone-o-Vision are photos of me on my own Fake Arbitrary Day:

Just taken the box away from the postman

Just taken the box away from the postman

Very well taped shut!

Very well taped shut!

Opening the box

Opening the box

Awesome, a guide to Safeway\'s current offers!

Awesome, a guide to Safeway's current offers!

A surprisingly detailed book on the basics of balloon sculpture.

A surprisingly detailed book on the basics of balloon sculpture.

Books by Dan Savage!

Books by Dan Savage!

(I love how happy Vault Boy looks in that photo)

Interesting cookery books. There was one of me reading the CIP data but I thought that might look too stereotypical

Interesting cookery books. There was one of me reading the CIP data but I thought that might look too stereotypical

Yes, yes I am reading the shipping information. What?

Yes, yes I am reading the shipping information. What?

Also not pictured was a DVD with a PDF of every single column of Savage Love since 1999, and an MP3 of all but the most recent episode of the Podcast. Awesome stuff!

(Seriously, I should get people to not send me presents more often, this kindness of strangers stuff is awesome!)

So that put a nice bounce in my week! Exclamation marks all round!

In which JTA is Entirely Surrounded By Boxes

So we have moved to Earth. Not only have we moved, but it’s starting to look like home. Quite how I own So Much Stuff(TM) I don’t know (especially since it turns out the sum total of the books in my posession doesn’t cover more than 38 foot of shelving, and barely takes up any room at all.

Getting out of the Uberflat was a sad business, and our arrival on Earth was… interesting. Ruth, of course, was the driving force behind moving here, starting out fresh, etcetera, so it was a bit of a letdown to discover the place was in ruins (OK, not actual ruins, but the fridge-freezer didn’t the front door didn’t close, the boiler didn’t work, the matress was worse than the one I had in Penbryn, the bathroom ceiling leaked, the bedroom door didn’t close, the garage door key was lost years ago, the snug smelt of damp, the sofa was torn to buggery, the kitchen tap dripped, the smoke alarms didn’t, the cooker hadn’t been cleaned, the grill pan was in the garden and the builders who lived here before had left stacks of low-quality pornography and rubble dotted around the place).

I will say for Premier Letting Agency that whilst they’re more than happy to let you move into a place that’s not really habitable, they did at least put in the effort to make it habitable once we’d arrived (I suspect the chap who was handling our account was New, and not really sure what he was supposed to be doing, because the girl who I’ve been speaking to lately has been Very Organising and has got things fixed). In fact, the Landlords have given us a much better matress, and a really nice new fridge freezer, and a front door that works properly and doesn’t have to be door-whisperered into closing is due next week. Almost everything else is fixed up too, apart from the Forgotten Garage and the fact there doesn’t appear to be a stopcock anywhere in the building.

Dissapointingly, the washing machine did work, so I couldn’t call Premier and tell them it was broke.

Still, since most of the things got either fixed or slated-to-be-fixed, the place has been coming along nicely, and I rather think it feels like home, although the unpacking bit is still kind of a pain. We delayed unpacking initially by more or less living out of bags the first week because we left most of our stuff back in Aber rather than try to transport everything in Miriam (which would have been a Bad Thing). Consequently we hired a Transit Van Raptor with which to shuttle our belongings about the shop, and we duly nipped back to Aber for a final Aber-based Troma Night last Friday and to load things into the van and get everything to Earth on Saturday.

Mostly, Dan loaded things into the van, whilst I tried to pack without moving anything (seriously, I wasn’t kidding when I said the matress on Earth was bad, it really did do a number on me). We also swung by CRAFT to pick up the various bits of furniture which we’d bought there the previous week (a very nice wall cabinet for £7.50, and a fantastic umbrella stand / hall seat which looks to be at least pre-war, if not better.

It became fairly apparent, around Saturday afternoon, that it was not going to be possible to get everything into the Raptor. Dan did amazing work packing things into corners, and stuffing up the furniture full of other things that needed to be transported, but even full to the ceiling, it wasn’t going to be enough – every time I declared a room to be “almost done” it turned out there were another five boxes of oddments still needing to be packed up.

So Ruth and I headed out of town on Saturday evening, with a revised plan: drive to Earth, jettison everything, sleep a bit, and then come back the next day (via Newport, where I’d arranged to collect my grandparent’s sofa bed, which would do for the Snug [It would do better for the snug if it wasn’t getting saggy in the middle, but I think stuffing a couple of pine boards in there will help with that]). We decided in advance that, since neither of us had actually driven a van before then, we’d work in strict shifts: one hour on, one hour off. I heartily recommend this to anyone undertaking a long journey after a tiring day in an unfamilar vehicle – knowing that you have to swap over is a damn good defence against thinking you’ll just go another forty miles to the next services, and is actually more restful because you can take a quick nap when it’s your break.

We’d planned to go via the Motorways, but that was sunk somewhat by a big oil spill outside Llandinam, so we backtracked to Llangurig and cut down the A44 to Worcester before we hit the M5. We returned to Earth about 02:00, and managed to unload everything – mostly into the garage, which does at least open from the inside – by around 03:30, at which point we went to sleep on out awesome new matress, which Premier had left in the hall. (We didn’t sleep in the hall, obviously, we took it upstairs first, but it was worth it all the same).

Sunday we were up at 08:00 (ugh) and hit the road about half past. We were considerably slowed down by IKEA, where we were purchasing book shelves in exchange for the aforementioned sofa, because we’d forgotten how bloody hard it is to get through IKEA without being slowed down by the chicanes and the hidden everything that makes it such a challenge to find what you’re after. But we made it to Newport anyway, and I was proved right that a transit van will go up our drive (I knew, because I’d seen ’em do it, but it was still nice to work out the mechanics), and then we got back to Aber about 16:00 and continued to load the van until we left, at 22:30. It would have been much, much, later but Paul was awesome and volunteered to do the actual cleaning.

So we brought the Raptor back in shifts, and arrived about 03:00 Monday, and unloaded and got four hours sleep, and then I went and took the Raptor back to Thifty, had bacon-egg-and-chips with a mug of sweet tea at Mick’s Cafe (which Statto introduced me to, and which is awesome) and, duly fortified, started getting shelves in place and emptying boxes onto them.

Emptying boxes is, in fact, just about all I’ve done this week, although I did get the Internet set up yesterday (which was pleasingly easy) and moved my computer up to my room today (which I didn’t before because of Watching Things, but next time I’m here there will be a television). O, and I’ve been trying to install the dishwasher, but I can’t because of the lack of a stopcock – to fit a dishwasher I have to put an adaptor on the pipe, and to do that I have to remove the supply to the washing machine, and to do that I really need a stopcock because there isn’t a tap on the feeder pipe, so if I remove the supply there’ll be water everywhere. Not even the Landlords know where the stopcock is, apparently, so that will be interesting (and possibly involve a lot of towels and turning on all the other taps, which I guess could work…

Anyway, the supply of yet-un-unpacked boxes is considerably reduced, and the few that remain un-unpacked can be shifted into the Snug for safekeeping, just in time for the living room to be once again re-filled with Boxes. But these will belong to Dan and Paul and will therefore Not Be My Responsibility, which is much nicer, and will leave me time to work out where all my clothes are going to go.

Anyway, I should go ensure that said boxes are duly hoiked over a couple of rooms, otherwise we shalln’t be able to leave for Wales on time.

Man, having the Internet again is nice. Now if I can only catch up on my 4,972 (+, because one indivudual feed is giving me nowt more specific than 1,000) Unread Items in my RSS feeds I might feel settled in…

Made it!

Well, there goes Masters Part One. Everything handed in and sorted out (assuming they don’t throw out my Diss proposal and make me do another one, anyway, which seems at least a bit unlikely).

It took No End of all nighters (Normally, I shut my tower down at night to save on electric. Before the electric meter ran back out yesteraday it had an uptime of 4 days, 19 hours, 26 minutes, which was only 8 hours longer than I’d spent awake in the same few days.

Now that everything is in, I’ve acquired a massive headache, which has presumably been lurking about to pounce on me, so I’ll guess I’ll stop gawking at the monitor for once.

Coming soon, a post about leaving town at last. In the meantime, have a limerick. I wanted to put it into that last assignment on Paul Otlet and Hypertext, but I suspect it was just one of those 05:30 ideas that isn’t actually suitable for academic work (although I like it, because it is suitably pathetic). Still, you ain’t marking me, so you get to have a copy:

There once was a fellow named Otlet,
Who thought that all wars should be stoptet.
He wanted a book,
To which we could all look,
But then he was dead and forgot-tet.

Semifinalist in Bruce Schneier’s Fifth Annual Movie-Plot Threat Contest

Hey-hey! So Bruce Schneier runs a Movie Plot Terrorism Threat contest, in which people submit short stories that depict Terrorist events of the kind that don’t really happen (ie, the sort that scare people a lot, and which Governments therefore like lots.)

Here is found the blog post which announced this year’s contest, in which entries have to be styled after a short story for children, max. 400 words.

Five semifinalists have now been announced:

  1. Untitled story about polar bears, by Mike Ferguson.
  2. “The Gashlycrumb Terrors,” by Laura.
  3. Untitled Little Red Riding Hood parody, by Isti.
  4. “The Boy who Didn’t Cry Wolf,” by yt.
  5. Untitled story about exploding imps, by Mister JTA.

Yeah, that Mister JTA.

You can vote for the winners – by leaving a comment to state which number you preffer – at this page. So, y’know, please do.

Note that I’m not demanding that you vote for my entry specifically*, but I won’t say no if you do. I could win a book out of this…


*It could’ve been a lot better: apart from anything else, it really suffered from the word limit (have you any idea how often a story designed to be told to children repeats itself as part of the natural form? I cut about five instances of “down the long years” so “back up the long years” loses a lot of it’s impact). I might return a full version of it once the voting is over, because I much preffered the 868-word version before I had to cut it down!

Apart from the fact I’m usefully relaying election results to people far removed from civilization (viz: one friend backpacking in Australia, and one in Edgbaston), I think I’m getting tired.

Because on the one hand, I’m making massive typos, and on the other, the results for Hammersmith just came in and I swear I sat here thinking ‘”Hammersmith”? Why does “Hammersmith” sound familiar?’ The answer, as I realised after they’d finished reading the results, is that I was there this morning yesterday.

On the other hand, I have been up since 06:16 on Thursday, and I’ve dodged into London then hammered back out of it to vote back in Wales, and I haven’t actually slept. I’ve not spent the whole night awake since I used to sit up in Penbryn of an evening.

(I’m almost tempted to see how long I can actually go, but I might have to admit defeat presently…)

From ‘Cataloguing rules as party conversation’ to ‘Reports in relation to RPGs.’ All the fun that’s fit to Mark As Read, huh?

Eech. I should be working on a report, at this moment in time: essentially Your university is going to launch foundation degrees, how will this affect the library & the readers?. I hate that sort of stuff, because whilst I realise that we’re supposed to be demonstrating the use of the theory, I don’t feel comfortable making up backstory in order to have a platform on which to stand everything else. It’s a ‘pre 1992 university,’ apparently, and that’s about all the guidance we get.

That is not enough guidance, I feel: from there I can say anything from ‘but the library building was completely re-done with corporate sponsorship in 1998 and has seven floors, complete with Student Shop and Coffee Bar on the entry level, Floor 5’ to ‘the library is housed in the Old Building, is Grade I listed and has the unique feature of two floors, each with a periodical gallery, originally designated to house the Arts and the Natural Sciences. The central Loans Desk has been left as it was, though admin work now takes place at a new desk, installed opposite the exit. The University is currently discussing arrangements for external access to the second floor for disabled students, but it severly limited by the various prevervation orders in place.’

…The problem, basically, is that I want the briefing for this report to be Oblivion, and what I’ve got is Morrowind. Oblivion is a fantastic game, and I really do enjoy playing it. Morrowind may well be a good game, but I could never get into it, because it was too open ended.

At the start of Oblivion, you’re in clink, but you get let out by narrative imperative the Emperor, who happens to need the escape route in your cell, and who dies almost as soon as you’ve had chance to collect one of each base weapon class, learn how to sneak, pick a lock and work your way back to the plot. For reasons best known to himself, he gives you the Amulet of the Maguffin, the token of his Emperordom, and tells you to push off and find a monk who knows where his illegitemate-but-everyone-else-in-the-family-is-dead Son is. At which point, you can either do so, or wander off and do open-ended things. It’s a nice obvious quest hook, and you can catch it, or not, or catch it later as the mood takes you.

At the start of Morrowind, as far as I can recall, you get off a boat, wander through an administation building, and get told that there’s a guy who lives over in Villagetown and you should go and see him. Doing so results in his suggesting you work for him, possibly for some secret reason. Go and do a minor quest in Noobsville, quoth he, and then… uh… yeah, I dunno. There doesn’t seem to be a main quest there. Now bear in mind the first computer games I ever played were Hillsfar, Spellcasting 201 and Paperboy 2. I like obvious objectives in games. I’ve grown to enjoy the freedom of open-ended stuff, it’s amazing to be able to do something in some place and reap the consequences later – which is why Deus Ex was so mindblowing for me – but it’s nice to have a solid known objective you can fall back on, not only to get you started, but to give you something to aim for once wandering in the wilderness gets dull.

And having to make up my own character backstory in a piece of academic work kinda bugs me: what if I go with Option A, and say “based on the findings of the various studies we’ve done (qv), perhaps we can devote the fourth floor to books for Foundation Degrees, and create a seperate collection there,” and then go on to discuss advantages and limitations and things, and Juanita decides that she’s never heard anything so retarded in her life because what the Hell was I thinking imagining more than three floors anyway, why haven’t I talked about the crushing space constrictions affecting the library service?


Of course, I know what’s going to happen: I’m going to Exposit it to within an inch of it’s life; this report to the Vice Chancellor is going to be the library equivilant of Chapter One, the one that goes

“As you know, your father – the King – had no other children. I greatly fear that this attack by Mordok was intended to kill you too. For if you are not present at the Celebrations tomorrow you will be declared dead and Mordok will seize power!”

and to which the only possible answer is

“Faithful old Knight, the only person who apparently knows the secret way out of the Castle – although I’d like to point out that it’s also a secret way into the castle, and how did Mordok’s forces manage to get past the seventeen well-defended gates unoticed anyway? Fine, fine, we’ll leave that to page two-hundred and sixty-seven – but, Allegedly Faithful Old Knight Who Was Always Passed Over By My Father For The Stewardship, I know all that. What, you think I lived just long enough to fulfil the Prophecy and make some Outcast Friends With Secret Knowledge without spotting the lack of siblings!? Dude, lay off the musty tomes already. Nice mysterious sigil ring, by the way. Why’s it glowing ominously red?”

But I’ll feel bad about doing it.

And anyway, I want to be working on my Dissertation reasearch, but I can’t really do that before I pass Part 1!

Still, in other news: have my eye on a job which would be awesome. Shall have to wait and see…

Party Tip #17

Just read this Basic Instructions.

As everyone knows, the only way to salvage this sort of situation is to drown out the noise of the guitar with a discussion of the relative limitations of non-MARC compliant AACR2 indexing in relation to the search habits of patrons today. (The biggest limitation, of course, comes with the balance between the cost of maintaining multiple access points on a card based system versus the necessity of ensuring access points for probable searches, especially in the context of the Statement of Responsibility: did you know that if you made a standard 3×5 card for the film ‘Pirates of the Carribean,’ you wouldn’t mention that Johnny Depp was involved anywhere on the card unless you chose to enter it into the Notes field [which, of course, cannot be indexed seperately]? It’s more of a concern than you might think, really, which is why we’re still using the core rules of AACR2 when we’d hoped to be on AACR3 by now, although we’re pretty much still on schedule [the first draft came out a couple of years back, and the whole thing should be due for launch this summer, is the plan]. Of course it isn’t going to be called AACR3 anymore, because it’s attempting to be less book-centric [AACR2, of course, had seperate sections for the cataloguing of different materials but we’re still talking pretty much about such materials as existed in the middle decades of the 20th Century, with revisions for more modern formats more or less bolted on wherever possible, which is why the new standard aims to be more open-ended] and they propose to reflect this by naming the whole thing RDA: Resource Description and Access.)

You’d think, since I know how to diffuse such an awkward situation as that, I’d get invited to more parties, but I figure maybe I’ve not been advertising well enough. I also have an awesome story about the development of MARC, though. It’s less technical than the background of cataloguing rules themselves, and I do find that it fits nicely into the silence you get whilst everyone is digesting what I’ve just been explaining, and stops that momentary awkwardness where people who don’t feel confident enough to ask for clarification on a more technical issue spoil their own enjoyment by ducking out to get a fresh drink…

Three Things

Hell’s teeth. Well today, thanks to something of a shift-scheduling snafu at Work B, I got double booked. As much as possible I’m trying to work for whoever offers to pay me first, because I think that works out fairest all round (the NHS pay me more per hour, but work in Holib is going to be more useful on a CV long-term, so there’s not much to choose between them apart from who shouts fastest). Of course, that sort of thing only works if people check your availibility first, and in this instance that didn’t happen quite as much as I’d’ve liked.

Consequently, I just worked 0700-0930 in the hospital, and now I’m in Holib 1000-1200, and then the hospital again 1230-1500. This is quite possibly insane, but I guess it means I will be paid eventually.

Got results for my Management Essay back, with which I am pleased: 68 (Pretty much the level I seem to be working at for everything, which I’m quite happy about, and some awesome feedback, featuring the line ‘Your opening two paragraphs are especially worthy of commendation,’ which – since the second paragraphs was a description of innefective managers in popular culture (viz: Gus Hedges, Gordon Brittas & the PHB) I think is a massive win all round.

Last night’s Troma was rather fun: we inflicted Space Mutiny on Finbar, and then we watched Orphan, a well-filmed and complex drama designed to warn everyone against ignoring the Rules.

The Rules, as every fule kno (except for the dimwits in the film) are, of course,

First: Look Out For Number One (Assuming you have first taken care to look out for Number One’s appointed representatives, if any.)
Second: When In Doubt, Close Ranks.
Third: Apply The Rules From The Centre Outwards, Not The Other Way Around.

Seriously, it’s like the people in that film wanted to be miserable. It’s quite fun, mind, but I think it’s significant that virtually the first sensible thing the lead character says is about fifty seconds from the end credits.

Stuck in Wales…

…with only the barest of creature comforts; a radio, a Hellish beefy tower, a small radiator, a few litres of spirits including gin, whisky, brandy & liquers (sounds like a French exercise, doesn’t it?*)

And all because Miriam’s broken herself. Bah. I’m very fond of Miriam; she’s got me through two sets of absolutely crazy floods, one the first day I had her, where we alternated between aquaplaning and smothering the exhaust in water in a frankly Flight-To-The-Ford-ish bid to get out of Stafford, and then again in poxy Newtown, when Matt & I were trying to make it back from Gregynog in the middle of the biggest flash flood this side of Dot and the Kangaroo, with water sloshing right over the bonnet.

The thing about Miriam is that I like her partly because she’s a lot more responsive than Mike’s little 1.2 litre Corsa what I learnt in – on at least one occasion that I’ve been in Mir, I’m pretty sure I’d have been quite badly killed if I’d not been in a machine with a decent lump of power in third gear: half way over a level crossing is a really bad time to discover that the lights and barriers have failed, especially with a Sprinter belting along the up line towards you, and it’s nice to know you can floor it without having to hang around to shift down to second – and partly because she’s a bloody good workhorse, in true VW fashion.

Last time she broke she got a hole in the exhaust which, as far as I can tell, reduced engine efficiency such that a couple of the elderly spark plugs gave up the ghost, and we nursed her the sixty miles from Porthmadog back to Aberystwyth on about two cylinders. I think the highest gear we could take was fourth, on the three miles that were all downhill. And then she managed to make it to the mechanic as well, so it could’ve been worse.

Pretty much the same thing happened this time round, although I’m not sure what’s causing the misfire, and instead of being in Porthmadog, she began to play up when Ruth was around 40 miles out of Aber, which I guess is preferable. The thing you have to remember here is the Miriam is a 1999 Skoda, so whilst she was built by VW who knew what they were doing, she is getting on a bit. As near as I can tell, she spent the first eight years of her life pottering around Wolverhampton to get to the shops and things: when we got her in September ’08, she’d done 44,000 miles. By January ’09 that was up to 51, and she’s now on 62,600. I think this is the equivilant of getting a pensioner who never left the village to run from London to Edinburgh with no training, so it’s not entirely surprising that she breaks a bone every now and then.

It was, however, particularly bad timing since it meant we couldn’t get out of town. Really sorry about that, guys; we’ll hack our way to Cardiff once she’s up and running again and take you for a meal or something. Hope it was a good ‘un!

…In the meantime, I’m also trying to get down to London, for fun and library-related games with people on my course. I’m also hoping to run a few errands whilst I’m down there – I need a job lot of leaflets from Friends House, for a start. This should still be possible, although thanks to the miracle of public transport, I shalln’t be leaving Aber until Monday morning. Happily I’m getting better and running on four or five hours sleep, thanks to inexplicably developing an inconvenient habit of handing essays in on time which rather requires me to write them beforehand.

So it’s all in a bit of a muddle, at the minute. I’m still hoping I’ll get a minute to visit the spectacular-looking Steampunk exhibition whilst I’m in the South, and then it’s back to Aber by train once more (bugger) in order to pull yet another shift at the hospital (who have nearly finished training me, thank goodness; I appreciate that it’s important everything in a hospital environment gets thoroughly cleaned, even if they refuse to make it smell clean with healthy things like carbolic [O man I want all of these things. Witchazel! I’ve not seen than in years!] but even so I have worked as a professional cleaner since 2002, I’m pretty sure I grasp at least the basics. Plus I seem to be unusual in finding burnishing awesome fun.) and then there’s another Murder Mystery, with almost everyone at it, which should be interesting.

In the meantime, everything is almost under control. I might even have a minute to reply to some email come February…

*Cite me! For bonus points!

r-jta exists! Huzzah!

Aye, as Ruth said we have a website. It is over here, and there is a helpful blog, which will presumably get less sparse over time.

I feel silly having a one-sentence post. Here is a meme, which you may now all skip.

  1. What is your name?
  2. Mister JTA.

  3. What colour pants are you wearing?
  4. Black jeans, blue thermals.

  5. What are you listening to right now?
  6. Depends what the RNG is doing, but the playlist is a mix of Barenaked Ladies, Slade and Warren Zevon, which combine nicely for some reason, presumably magic.

  7. What are the last four digits of your phone number?
  8. You realise that’s over half the main number, right? By the time you’re establishing my number based on what the exchange might be, you could just as easily look it up in the phone directory…

  9. What was the last thing you ate?
  10. Chilli con carne, with significantly more rice than chilly. For the cheap.

  11. If you were a crayon, what colour would you be?
  12. Er…. Blue?

  13. Where do you plan to go on your honeymoon?
  14. Huh. Topical. Rather going with the traditional “random short break, proper honeymoon later” plan, is my understanding.

  15. How is the weather right now?
  16. Sodding miserable.There’s ice and snow and everything. It sucks.

  17. Last person you talked to on the phone?
  18. No idea what their name is. Sry.

  19. What’s the first thing you notice about the opposite sex?
  20. What clothes they have on. Actually Probably Possibly a lot less pervy than it sounds.

  21. How are you today?
  22. Not entirely frozen.

  23. Your favourite drink?
  24. Er. One of tea, coffee, pepsi or Mountain Dew.

  25. Your favourite alcoholic drink/s?
  26. Ale, gin, whisky, rum, port, stout, cider…

  27. Have you ever lost someone?
  28. Doy.

  29. Favourite sport to play?
  30. Hahaha.

  31. Name three people you can tell anything to?
  32. Jeez, three? Er. Ruth. Dan. Er. Yeah, that’s your lot. Move along, folks.

  33. Hair colour?
  34. Brown? Probably, although it might be black.

  35. Eye Colour?
  36. Brown.

  37. What do you find annoying in a person?
  38. Hm. I’m assuming you mean ‘most annoying’ there. Lack of empathy. It’s not like it’s hard.

  39. Siblings and their ages?
  40. One, 19.

  41. Favourite month?
  42. Er. Maaay?.

  43. Favourite food?
  44. The sort that someone else is paying for.

  45. Last movie you’ve watched?
  46. Wanted, probably.

  47. Favourite day of the year?
  48. And the point of having one of those would be what?

  49. Are you too shy to ask someone out?
  50. All signs point to possibly. Or not, if’n I can actually tell whether they like me. So, er, yes.

  51. Summer or Winter?
  52. At the moment, I’d say summer. Come the next heatwave, I’ll say winter. Bloody weather.

  53. Where do you see urself next year?
  54. Down Oxford way, is the plan.

  55. Hugs or Kisses?
  56. Well… hugs are more transferable.

  57. Relationship or one night stands?
  58. This was written by someone in High School, wasn’t it? Still, they tell me even teenagers find relationships are in vogue these days.

  59. Favourite Computer Game?
  60. Errr. Probably S201 for all-time favourite. Otherwise I’m quite liking Saints Row 2, at the minute. It’s like a GTA game, but written sensibly.

  61. Living Arrangements?
  62. An attic flat, with no loft insulation and no heating. Wheeeeee.

  63. What books are you reading?
  64. Intersting times; Flashman; Cartoon history of the modern world, v. 2.

  65. What’s on your mouse pad?
  66. Mouse what?

  67. Favourite board game?
  68. Really quite liking BSG at the minute, but also Power Grid & Illuminati & Hacker…

  69. Favourite magazine?
  70. Private Eye kinda wins by default, there…

  71. Favourite smells?
  72. Nice whisky is awesome, innit?

  73. Least favourite smell?
  74. Cigarette smoke, probably. Pipes I mind less.

  75. Favourite sound?
  76. People giving me money, in a loud “shuffling of banknotes” sort of way!

  77. Worst feeling in the world?
  78. Probably that one where everything sucks and you cannae do anything about it.

  79. What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning?
  80. At the minute? ‘Bollocks bollocks bollocks, my joints are hurting already, fucking winter.’

  81. Favourite colour(s)?
  82. Blue.

  83. How many rings before you answer the phone?
  84. Depends where I am. Anyway, you can’t tell how many times a mobile rings.

  85. Do you think the glass is half empty or half full?
  86. In my experience, glasses rarely fill themselves. It’s therefore safe to assume that 1) it is getting emptier, and 2) in a just world, someone else would have already volunteered to buy you another…

  87. Favourite movies?
  88. Flashback; South Park: BLU; big fan of Wargames when I’m in the right mood.

  89. What’s under your bed?
  90. The floor, an office that used to be heated for around eleven hours a day, and hasn’t had anyone using it for the past seven months.

  91. What cd do you have in your stereo?
  92. Sterewhat? My Optical drives are currently sporting L4D2 and Civilization II, if that helps.

  93. Favourite TV show:
  94. Er. I generally fire up iplayer to watch Top Gear…

  95. What’s ur favourite Song?
  96. I’ll stick with Protect & Survive, by Runrig, cheers.

— it’s all gone wrong, hasn’t it?’

Not to generalise, of course, but 2009 sucked. I mean, I’ve clocked up worse years, but for unrelenting grind that was a bad ‘un.

Essentially, it’s the year where my sleeping patterns went to bits, I actually started working because I’m no longer a university student wanting education but a university student wanting a qualification (which is far harder to get, since it’s pretty much a quest on rails), I clocked up further debt whilst getting a handle on fiscal responsibility, and Everything Went Wrong for everyone. (Except for the people it didn’t go so wrong for, but I know fewer of them.)

Mind, there were some decent enough bits, but I suspect it’s going into my overview under “everything went wrong for everyone” (Vs. “1992 – Really wet summer,” “1995 – First absurdly hot summer with melty tar” and “2007/8 – I have no idea what happened between Oxford and starting in IS”.)

Still, it’s over now, and we get a whole new year. How, uh, arbitrary. Nevertheless: Happy New Year, people.

O, and kudos to the Goverment for not restoring our 11 days they owe us during 2k9. Bloody thing was long enough as it was. (I’m still waiting for my helicopter that means I won’t need to use railway branch lines, but I’ll trade my claim to that for someone at the ministry exhuming Beeching and sticking his skull on a pike.)

As I say, best of luck for 2010, and lets hope things pick up for everyone, shall we?

Fifty – Fifty

Well, last time I got onto this (frankly already well-flogged) hobbyhorse, at least I managed to sound a very little optomistic. Unhappily, the last time round I was sober, and now I’m, er, not quite so sober.

There are good things going on for me, I must say, and the last weekend was a blinder, and went better than I expected it to, even the bit where I found myself spooling back ten years and tying a bunch of flowers to the nearest roadsign to the crossroads.

On the flip side, I’ve now been alive longer since my father got killed than I was before, which is, er, wierd. It hadn’t actually occured to me that that was the case until I happened to do the maths the other day, so it’s come as a bit of a surprise. I’m pretty sure I’m on the record as having said that I think hitting 42 & 43 will be a bit weird, the former because of matching, the latter because of surpassing, but I hadn’t spotted this “more than half” business sneaking up on me until the last minute, so I’m still a bit knocked sideways. Plus, of course, naturally inclined to be introspective.

To be honest, I’m not blogging so much out of a desire to say anything remotely interesting as a hope that I can spin out time until I’m a) sober enough to get some sleep, and b) less buzzing with thoughts, but I can’t say it’s working.

And I don’t really think this is a good post to be writing, so I shall stumble back onto the old coin-flip thing, and post only if this, er… 1733 George the 2nd ha’penny, apparently, which says a lot about the state of my finances that that should be the nearest coin to hand, comes up smudgy tails rather than weirdly unfamiliar heads.

Huh. Fairly unfamiliar tails too, now it cmes to it, and I’m rambling again. I need either to get less drunk at parties, or to start coping better with being one over the eight. Someone tell me which I should do, and I’ll see which sounds better in the morning.

O – and remember, kids: never blog drunk. You dunno what you might be typing. (Yeah, yeah, I’m deliberately not listening to myself. Sue me, I’m a part-time trainwreck. I have no idea how that would work.) Jebus, it’s gone one in the morning. This is what happens when I have no radio or company to give me timechecks, I fail to look at the clock. Nuts.

Fresher’s Week, again.

Today’s fun fact: I’ve now owned my little battery-powered FM/LW/MW/SW radio for six years. Bought it in Dixons, back when we had one of those in Aber. Well I find it interesting, anyway.

Induction gubbins carries on apace. Yesterday, out to Llanbadarn for what turned out to be a slightly strange seven-strand induction lecture, the highlight of which was the woman the Careers service sent along who tried very hard, but failed to make the leap from “This is a lecture theatre packed to the gills with naught but postgraduate students about to start their Masters courses” to “therefore I should address them as such.”

Thus, after we’d been sitting and listening to people address us for a little under 40 minutes, she began her skit by getting us all to stand up, and stretch and yawn theatrically (Heaven forfend that PG students should be able to sit for under an hour and listen to people!) and then followed that up with the suggestion we were all liars.

We would all like to think we’re there to bolster our skills, she reasoned, but actually we’re just doing it to keep ourselves off the jobs market until the recession is over. Isn’t that right, she asked, as a multitude of hands – three in number – rose in bemused agreement. “How nice,” she said, “that there are three honest people here.” Yeah, thanks for that. You do realise that we’re paying out for this, right? We’re not just sitting here for to while away the next twelve months of an already finite lifetime.

Sigh. She’d’ve gone down a treat with undergraduates, I’m sure, but like I say she didn’t make the link. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen her before; she gave us an incredibly annoying handout on the importance of getting jobs done, which I’ll blog about as soon as I’ve dug it up, because it was such appaling nonsense it damn well deserves to be on the Internet. Probably is somewhere, actually, it’s the sort of bollocks they like to save up for when someone wants to make a website out of clever managerial witticisms…

Anyway, today I went and registered, and am thus officially re-enrolled. Registration by paper always puts me in mind of the Copy Protection Scene in Spellcasting 101 where you have to queue up and then one of the professors says “Ah, yes, Mr. Eaglebeak. Tell me, what was your Oral Aptitude score?” and if you don’t look sharp and say “590” like what it says on the paper you fish out of the box they push you off to the Restore : Undo : Quit screen fast as you please.

Anyway, they didn’t ask me anything like that or even what my Health Score was (Ernie’s is 91), but I did have to queue twice over, because they forgot to sign the first of my three forms in addition to the second, at least on the first attempt. Hey ho.

I’ve landed myself a 50:70 split, because neither of my two option modules run in Semester 1, but they reckon that won’t be too much of a problem, and if I’m honest it’s the 60-credit diss that’s worrying me, if anything.

Still, I’m all registered up. I returned home to find, in Inbox A, a email from the University in the form of a confirmation to let me know that they have updated my records and I am officially a student and, in Inbox B, an email from the University in the form of an Alumni Newsletter to let me know about all this new students they’ve got sloshing about the place and signing up for all manner of silly modules.

All rather strange, and it’s only Tuesday. Still, see how we go, shall we?


I’m too much of a barometer, is my trouble, and everyone else seems to be having it unremittingly grim just at the moment.


It’s not as though I actually like writing people off; I do try not to. Still if people will go around being… Ah, damnation I do wish you scunners wouldn’t pull tricks like that, y’know? It ain’t helpful for any of your people, and it’s sure as Hell not a good idea for any of mine. (On the plus side, y’bastard, I only met you once so you’ve spared yourself the bit where I figure you know me well enough that pulling this kind of stunt counts as a personal insult to myself. On the downside, I only met you once so I ain’t in a position to execute a proper stick-rip-twist on you. Yeah, it’s that bad; I’ve not done one of them for years, thank Christ. Never reflect very well on anyone those do and you can never be certain that they’ll float back into their conciousness at 0200h as intended or if they’ll just drift out the other side. Or be certain which to hope for, really…)

Hey, I said I’d honed being loyal to a fault into a form of art. I never said I was nice.

Meanwhile, I’m going to go slump over, polish off the last of the whisky and have a bit of a read before I turn in. An’ that ain’t going to make anything better, either. But, then, it’s late, my knees have been playing Hob all day, even before the standing up, and the rest of the background stress isn’t helping with the more immediate backstabbery. You’re all permitted to ignore me, y’know; I’m due a busy week, I’ll be right, betimes; I just needed to be incoherently stroppy with the world.