Friday, September 28, 2007


Look look! Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency on Radio 4.

Big silly grin.

today I am mostly...

...reading Ulysses. Trying to see how much of it I can get read in one day.

So far today, I've also broken a glass and sent shards of glass all over the kitchen, re-wired the vacuum cleaner plug so that I could clean it up, washed everything on the kitchen worktop that got covered in little bits of glass, checked my emails, sent party invites on Facebook, registered for a conference and written a blog post to tell the whole world what I've done.

So not a lot of reading then.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

black swan

I've just come back from seeing Atonement which is beautiful and sad. Which is all I can think to say about it at the moment.

Except that the music is wonderful in the way it draws together atmosphere and sound and the feelings of the moment and the sound of the typewriter, drumming away at the beginning and returning again and again and the sound of repeated notes in the piano and the buzzing of a fly creating the oppressive heat of a summer afternoon.

I think it's got into my prose style a little. All that brittle wartime dialogue in cut glass accents.

I came the long and scenic way home, feeling the need for sunshine and air and the wind in my face. It had rained while I was in the cinema and the sky was fresh and full of crepuscular clouds. Dashing along the river, I saw a black swan. I stopped, it cried, just once, and swam on. I remembered how as a child I thought all swans were black because the ones in the park were and how excited I would be to see white swans. Today, to see a black swan was somehow thrilling and alive-making. On home, as fast I could across the common, past the cows and the evening sun dazzling straight in my face.

Now home, where it's warmer, a little and the pears next door are hanging heavy. Are they ripe yet?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

science in art

I'm just finished reading The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas. It's a fun read, concerning the investigations of PhD student Ariel into a mysterious novel, reputed to be cursed, also called The End of Mr. Y by an odd Victorian scientist called Thomas Lumas. The first few chapters felt like Thomas had stolen my ideas of what I wanted to do with my life and given them to her character. Ariel goes to a lecture by Prof. Burlem on Lumas, and after it, he offers her a PhD project based in a Literature department looking at the history of thought experiments. (If only...) As the novel begins, Burlem has disappeared, a building at the university has collapsed (apparently to no-one's great suprise) and on her way home, Ariel finds a copy of Lumas' cursed novel in a box of books in a second hand shop, which she quickly buys, before the shop assistant can realise its value. Chapters from Lumas' novel alternate with Ariel's first person narrative of her, rather dark and gloomy, life. (I was amused to notice that Ariel, like the heroine of Thomas' previous novel PopCo and Thomas herself, eats a vegan diet. This is mostly irrelevent to the plot apart from the fact that as an impoverished PhD student, Ariel can afford to buy very little food, although I'm sure a dietician would have something to say about the perils of surviving on potatoes, dark chocolate, black coffee and slivovitz.)

The collapsed building is a means for introducing to Ariel's department office a evolutionary biologist and a theologian. Here things start to clunk a little. An impromptu dinner party is the scene for a discussion of origins and truth. The themes are relevant, but I don't think they're handled very well. If you want to write a novel which explores theoretical physics, philosophy and multiple dimensions, then you're going to need to explain them somehow, but how exactly is tricky. Giving differing philosophical positions to different characters is usually how it works (David Lodge does it rather well) but somehow it didn't quite work for me. The theologian character, Adam, becomes more important by the end of the novel, but the biologist seems to be there only to be to impart some information about science and then fades into the background.

It's a highly fantastical novel and by the end we've left reality far behind. I did like the unravelling of Ariel as a character. At the beginning, I wasn't sure I liked her. By the end, she had become rounded out and understandable, as facts and snippets of her past life were revealed. It's an odd mixture of quantum theory, Baudrillard, time travel, Heidegger and a whole string of literary theorists and philosophers, predictable in some aspects (start with quantum indeterminacy and a world constructed from langauge and see where you end up) but ends up in some unexpected places. The effect is a little confused, as if too many ideas got thrown into the the mix. It reminded me of PopCo by the same author and of Pattern Recognition by William Gibson.

I'm vaguely thinking about dissertation ideas at the moment and thinking about doing something about how scientific ideas get used in literature. I'm not sure if this novel is typical of the sort of thing I want to investigate. More data needed, I think.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

bye bye work, hello uni

Today's been a weird day, for good reasons. I had my official last day at work and my first contact with the other students and the lecturers for my new course. Leaving work for the last time, having said goodbye to everybody (and eaten a delicious, if rather large lunch) was odd. I'm both happy and sad to be leaving, which I suppose is a good position in which to be. I did spend quite a lot of the afternoon trying to cram all the contents of my brain into the brain of the person who's replacing me, which was a bit much, both for her and for me. We didn't quite cover everything, I've promised to write her some more notes. It's only when I had to explain all the things I did in my job that I realised quite how complicated it all was and how much I just do without thinking.

And now I'm a student. Not just that, but I'm an ARTS student for the first time in my life. All those jokes we used to make about lazy arts students with two lectures a week who never got out of bed before noon are now coming back to haunt me. I'm definitely the only person on my course with a Physics degree. Everyone else has come from English or History or other Humanities subjects. And so far there are no men. Some are apparently enrolled on the course, but none of them turned up tonight. It's a long way from those lecture hall and demonstration labs where my lab partner and I were distinctly outnumbered by male physicists.* It's all different. But different is exciting and I'm very very excited and happy to be finally starting!

*Who don't all conform to the geeky stereotype. But many do.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

talk talk

So, I've just been speed-dating. And it was OK. I think I've introduced myself and explained who I am more times in the last few hours than I have since I was last a Fresher (hmm, I suppose I'm technically one of those again). But it was a good evening and some of the guys I met were interesting in an "I'd like to talk to you again" sort of way and some of them were interesting in an "I'm sure you're lovely but we have nothing in common" sort of way and all of them were friendly. So, we'll see what happens. But I'm glad I went.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

...and collapse in a heap

This has been a very very busy and stressful week and I'm so glad it's over.
In a sense it's not as I've got 2 days left at work, one tomorrow and my last day on Thursday. But the weekend conference I've been preparing for all week is over and I get to go home and relax (i.e. collapse in a heap, have a bath and curl up on the settee with a good film, not got the brain power for reading).

And very very soon I will be a full time student and not be trying to concentrate on a full time job and studying all at once. Hooray!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

cows and sky

cows and sky, originally uploaded by the pig wot flies.

The view across Coldham's Common as I cycled to work this morning.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

bad day, good food

Yesterday was not a good day. A situation at work made me angry enough to have to walk out of the office and go and kick apples around in the college grounds and ring my mum who calmed me down. It's still not really sorted, but I'm less stressed now.

On the good side, I went into town for lunch and wandered round the market. The stalls were full of wonderful fruit and veg, so many beautiful fresh things to eat, including fresh figs. I've eaten figs once before, but I'd never cooked them myself, so I decided to buy a few. I'd never realised how beautiful and delicate they are. A little googling found me some recipes. I tried a couple out.

For my main course I roasted a fig in the oven with some goat cheese, rosemary from the bush outside our back door and a few walnuts. Heavenly! I've never tasted anything quite like it. The cheese and herb flavours complemented the taste and fleshy, succulent texture beautifully.

Then for dessert, I poached a fig in some red wine, with cinnamon. I ate it with a dollop of greek yoghurt. It wasn't quite as luxuriously melting as the roasted fig, but still beautiful.

There's one fig left in my fridge. They're so delicate it won't keep for long. I might try roasting it with nuts and honey, or maybe goat cheese again.

Mmmm, I think I have a new favourite food.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

counting the days down

Until I leave my current job and become a proper student again. (Rather than an improper one?) It's going to be a busy week. My replacement starts tomorrow, so we've got a week or so handover period. I'm not really sure where to start. In the past I've just left jobs (generally remembering to tidy up before I left) but I've never had to 'train up' my replacement before. Not that training's exactly the word, more showing someone round all the things I do and making sure there aren't any things that are obvious to me that noone else knows. So that's this week, much busy-ness at work, my last Open University essay to be written, maybe even some reading for my new course to be done.

It's been an undramatic weekend. We didn't go and buy bookcases, there were no nasty suprises, I didn't catch up on sleep (indeed got even less sleep than usual due to someone playing songs about threshing machines and oompah bands at 2.30am).

It's not that life is dull, just that I've nothing very entertaining to say about it. Maybe in a few weeks time I will. Maybe I won't. Who can say.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

pathetic really

I'm annoyed because I want to check my emails and hotmail isn't loading properly. It's not as if I'm likely to have any urgent emails. It's just bothersome. Humph.

ETA: It's back again now. Hooray! And no, there were no emails of any great pith or moment.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

september I'll remember

It feels like autumn. Cycling to and from work, there's a definite chill in the air. I went blackberrying on the way home yesterday and somehow it wasn't as much fun as it was in August when it was sunny and warm. All the easy berries had gone and though there are still many more to come, there's not that feeling of abundant fruit anymore. And I got stung by nettles and stood in a cow pat which is enough to make anyone feel grumpy.

Still, I like autumn. Brisk cold sunny days, wearing skirts and boots and jumpers. I'm in need of jumpers, I've slimmed out of last year's. Two weeks or so left at work, one essay left to write for my OU course, a stack of books to read for my MA course. Back to being a full-time student again, back to being penniless again.

It's going to be a busy month, this September.