Saturday, December 29, 2007

People's obsessions

I do love the way the internet allows people to indulge their personal passions and obsessions, for all to see. I'm not talking about anything sleazy here, but the way people's personal interests or hobbies that may have been hidden away before are now given full rein and public exposure. I've been struck recently by how much time and loving care must be lavished by people on creating material for their own pleasure, for YouTube videos, websites or blogs. I probably ought to find some examples, but can't think of any at present...

I was poking about yesterday on YouTube on a personal musical nostalgia trip of bands I'd seen or wished I'd seen, or any old stuff really. Major procrastination on my part probably... One user had loads of David Cassidy videos, clips from the Partridge Family TV show, as well as her own slideshows with musical accompaniment. I was thinking that a longstanding fan like her must have previously had collections of photos or memorabilia hidden away in boxes, magazines or scrapbooks, plus a collection of albums, on vinyl or CD, though nobody would know she had it. Now it's all reusable in a different form and made accessible to many more interested people. Even collections of 3D objects can be used for something.

I don't know why, but I find the idea of people feverishly slogging away at their computers on their pet projects quite endearing. I like the way so much effort must have been spent creating sites and videos for a presumably quite specialist audience- it must take ages to transfer old VHS clips to a YouTube-friendly format, but I'm glad people do, as it's nice to be able to share old footage with other enthusiasts, and they probably have a better knowledge and attention to detail than many 'official' sites. 'Fan-dom' seems quite obsessive sometimes, though probably harmless in the wider scheme of things.

I suppose it's stating the obvious really, but the growth of the internet and all its related digital bits must have taken private collections and interests to another level that wouldn't have existed before the technology and 'user generated content' became easily mastered. It lets one indulge one's inner anorak tendencies, as you're no longer alone in your obscure passion. I half wish I had an obsession that would drive me to create some new web-based thing, but I don't. I like other people's strangely diverse enthusiasms though.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Sound of Fury

I've become really fascinated by Billy Fury recently, since I watched a DVD about his life and music, 'His Wondrous Story'. I didn't know anything about him before that, just that he was an English rock 'n' roll singer who started in the 1950s, though I realise I knew some of his songs already when I heard them. I've also remembered I've got a few photos of him in old film and pop star annuals, ones I bought decades ago for their lurid coloured photography, styling and fashion.

I wish there had been more original footage of him on the DVD, particularly live performances. Interviewees said how good he was live and how he got banned in Ireland until he cleaned up his stage act, which is really annoying as it leaves you wondering what he was actually like, but you'll never know, as it's all in the past. My mum never went to see him, so I can't ask her. The narrative voiceover on the DVD was by Dave Vanian, singer with The Damned (seminal British punk band). That might sound odd to the uninitiated, but I think you can hear Billy Fury's musical influence on some of Vanian's non-Damned 'Phantom Chords' album. Apparently Morrissey is also a fan (which might be interesting if you like him or The Smiths, though I don't particularly.)

I really love Billy Fury's voice and the songs he wrote himself, which is an unusual thing for a 'teen idol' of the late 1950s/early '60s to have done. I like the sound of him as a person too, coping with serious health problems from an early age that led to his premature death at 42, being really shy but amazingly good looking and talented, caring for injured wildlife and being anti-bloodsports, amongst other qualities. I suppose some singers and musicians just appeal to you, regardless of when they lived or died.

Here's someone's video of him and one of his biggest hits, Halfway to Paradise. Though actually I do prefer the first album of his, The Sound of Fury, which he wrote all the songs for, but there weren't any of them on YouTube. I don't suppose it's to the taste of many of you regular readers of this blog, but for me, there's no going back now!!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Things on sticks

Some people seem to take a fair amount of trouble to attach things to sticks and carry them around when they're out and about. I've just seen a grimy looking tramp striding purposefully past Tesco's with a doll's head on a stick held out in front of him at arms length, like a talisman, or a trophy. The doll's head coordinated nicely with his own appearance, as both had long matted hair and grubby faces, but it seemed a strange possession for someone who lives rough. It gave him the appearance of a slightly deranged voodoo-satanic plastic doll worshipper.

I've seen another man on the bus a few times who looks like a witchdoctor, swathed in African fabrics and accessorised with bits of animal fur. He carries a long stick that he periodically taps on the floor of the bus, annoying the driver. He mutters to himself continuously, which is slightly unnerving, apart from a strange touch of domesticity in the form of a new wooden spoon tied to the end of the stick. That changes the effect slightly. My brother had his fortune told by a witchdoctor years ago when we lived abroad, but I think he had animal bones and a spear head attached to his stick, not an English wooden cooking utensil.

I'm sure these objects have got some significance for their owners. I know it's their whole appearance and the muttering as well, but carrying odd things on sticks certainly helps to clear their path on crowded buses and pavements. Everyone gets out of their way fairly rapidly. People scatter. Maybe something to bear in mind during the rush hour...

Monday, December 17, 2007

Almost human again

Things have eased off slightly since my last moany post. I think I'd taken on too much stuff, in retrospect... I succumbed to the flu bug which was going round at work and was off sick for a while. That meant I had to re-jig various teaching things and dreamt about them while I was ill. Feverish hallucinations and an over-attachment to the job are not great for one's recovery really.

Now all the final dissertation tutorials are finished, the essays are marked and the students have gone for the holidays. I've developed an extreme aversion to slithery transparent A4 plastic wallets. It's really difficult to get the essays back in once you've read them and when there's loads of them... a staple in the corner would do the job quite nicely.

We've had the annual staff meeting, listened to tales about different types of concrete (for the new college building) and heard how Sir Norman Foster got the lettering very wrong in the British Museum (wrong typeface and bad letter spacing, though I don't suppose he thought so). We've had the Christmas party, thankfully devoid of novelty flashing antlers and bursts of song. Small mercies.

I had a meeting with my PhD supervisors about the year ahead. The workload is rather daunting from now on, until the end of August. We discussed examiners - I need an extra one, as I'm staff. Every PhD in this country is assessed by a panel of experts in that field, who read the thesis and cross-examine the student verbally in a viva, before they decide whether a doctorate can be awarded or not. Apparently some students enjoy this (!!) as it's a rare opportunity to discuss their work with experts. The enjoyment factor sounds a bit dubious to me at the moment, but I'm glad the people we've selected have already heard about me and like my work. Assuming there are no unforeseen deaths or disasters ahead, the whole thing should be out of the way by this time next year....!!!!!!!!

I'm a bit nervous about what happens after that, as it's horrendously competitive out there and academic qualifications alone don't guarantee marvellous jobs. A colleague who is at the same point in her PhD has been questioning everything in her life as well recently, so I guess it's normal, though definitely not pleasant. An old schoolfriend has just finished hers and said it was an ordeal at the end, so that makes me feel better too... sort of. My mum thinks we must be masochistic weirdos for putting ourselves through it on purpose, and I'm starting to think she has a point.

It was my dad's 70th birthday do yesterday, which was surprisingly nice (I'm afraid I hadn't been looking forward to it). But it felt like the first time I'd done something totally unrelated to work for ages, it gets the other stuff into perspective, so I'm having a blissful pottering-about day today and intend to have a good rest for now, mixed up with doing non-work things and some writing. I think I'll sort my blog out too... a change of look would be good, but I'm not sure what I want yet. I've been watching quite few old Doctor Who episodes, hence the Family of Blood pic - that was a good one, and scary scarecrows too. I've also been shopping, for new shoes and a selection of cosmetics and bath stuff I'd run out of - there doesn't seem any point in working if you can't squander a bit of money on yourself occasionally. Now I just 'need' a new MAC lipstick and a new lip brush, as my current one is nearly bald (the hairs keep coming out and sticking to my lips) then I think I'll feel almost human again. Phew.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Slipping into anonymity

Hello there. I've been going through an 'oh, I wish I'd started an anonymous blog' phase. It usually happens when I remember that it's on the internet and definitely not a limited conversation between a few selected people, which it often feels like with blogging. I'm fed up with trying to vet what I write, so it's not about actual people who don't know they're being written about, or work stuff that might annoy someone, or my PhD research before it's published (which would be extremely stupid, from a career point of view).

I know you can't really go backwards and slip into anonymity when you've been doing a blog for a year, as some people obviously know who you are, which I don't mind anyway. In an attempt to shrug off my foul mood and cover my tracks slightly, I've changed my profile, rather than deleting the actual blog, which I was sorely tempted to do earlier. I really liked the idea of starting completely afresh, but I resisted it this time.

I think all this was prompted by wondering what I'd be doing in a year's time, and whether whatever I've written on the blog would be appropriate for whatever I might be doing then... or what I want to do. Would I want my departmental manager or future employer reading what I'd written about eyebrows or rat milk or the X Factor??? Who knows. It's that annoying potential conflict between all the different parts of your life that get all mixed up on-line. As it's a bit difficult trying to predict the future and I'm not exactly known for being psychic, I'll keep it like this for now. I don't suppose even the Christmas Cavalcade of Clairvoyants that my mum and Auntie Ig went to see at the weekend would have had an answer either.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

X Factor: Checkout Chat

There is a certain checkout till in my local Sainsbury's where you can count on having a quick chat about the X Factor. Depends on who's in the queue next to you, but there's usually a little gaggle of about 3 or 4 people, including the cashier, dissecting the last show. Nice to get different points of view.

We all wondered how small Leon actually is, as judges and presenters constantly refer to him as "little Leon". If he didn't have a height complex before the series, he should do now. So how tall is he???

Today's second favourite was Niki - "There's something about her, she always makes you cry". Crying is good, as it shows they sing with emotion and "move you", though the whole programme seems to be turning into a bit of a blub-fest at the moment anyway.

Same Difference are apparently good because they're "clean-living, a bit like Donny and Marie Osmond". I wasn't happy about that comparison, as no-one does clean-living like the Osmonds, though I understood where they were coming from.

None of us liked yesterday's Rhydian song, though we unanimously want him to win. Despite the song, I actually voted for him this week, which must be a new stage in my unexpectedly growing fan-dom. The last time I voted in a TV reality show was for a Portugese transsexual to win Big Brother years ago, and that was partly a tactical vote against the other smug contestant who thought they had it in the bag - how could they lose against a transsexual? (Haha, lose they did. Someone must have underestimated the power of the underdog or negative press to translate into votes.)

I'm quite looking forward to next week's post-X Factor trip to the supermarket now.

What am I talking about...?
Official X Factor site
A more interesting Rhydian and X Factor site
That's all you need really.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Rat Milk

Heather Mills' recent suggestion to drink rat's milk (or cat's or dog's milk) doesn't seem to have gone down very well with various people. She was attempting to draw a connection between the rise in global warming and dairy livestock production in this country, so selecting an alternative to cow's milk in one's diet theoretically helps to save the planet.

Professor of Food Science at Glasgow Caledonian University said her suggestion that rat's milk could be a viable alternative was "ridiculous. They just don't lactate the same volumes."

Anyway, rats haven't had a great public image in promoting healthy living since their major role in spreading the Black Death across medieval Europe. The
Federation of Rodent Cheesemakers pointed out that rat produce isn't for the squeamish. They do a classic little English style cheese, a "robust rodent cheddar" called Nibblesden Vintage, but memories of Rattus Rattus, the Black 'Death' Rat, clearly linger for some.

Pestilence and disease aside, they reckon it would take a herd of five hundred or so dairy rats to produce about a pint (568ml) of milk a day. Doesn't sound very practical, does it. I wonder what the rats would think of Heather's suggestion? They seem pretty capable of looking after themselves, going by this 18th century print of rats storming a cat's castle. I guess you could say they survived the Plague Years a lot better than humans. Go, rats, go! And how did you say you liked your tea... with rat milk or without....?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Dressed like an Emu

I've been thinking about the anti-stalker vending machine outfit I mentioned the other day, and it's not quite as bizarre as I first thought. It's just a different type of 'camouflage technique' so you could say that it's got a respectable precedent.

The military use it in various forms, as was seen in the recent exhibition at the Imperial War Museum.*

There's also a chapter in 'Scouting for Boys' by Robert Baden-Powell that teaches boys how to stalk (animals or people - all good clean fun). For urban stalking, he emphasises the importance of choosing your outfit carefully, to blend in with the environment. Co-ordinate your clothes with the walls and foliage you're planning to lurk near. Very subtle... designed to prevent your 'target' from getting annoyed by being openly stared at.

He has more 'exotic' examples of camouflage, such as the Australian aborigine stalking emus, dressed in an emu skin, walking with body bent and one hand held up to represent the bird's head and neck. It looks a bit Rod Hull, but still rather ingenious... you can barely spot the difference from the real thing, apart from the slightly un-birdlike muscular legs and neck, so what chance do the emus have?

Unfortunately, I seemed to be a weirdo magnet today, but I don't think dressing like an emu, or being disguised as a vending machine, would have helped *sigh*. A manically smiling man with an oversized bandaged finger sidled up to me at the bus-stop, with his beady bloodshot eyes fixed on my bag. Creepy. I think it was a junkie thing. And the little foreign man who'd been staring at me on the way home and rushed upstairs to sit near me on the bus, gabbling in a strange attempt at conversation.... "The time? Leicester Square? Nice arse. Nice hair." Cheers mate, how very flattering. He only went one stop and leapt off, waving and grinning at me from the pavement. Weirdo. What did he expect me to do...? I think it was a height thing with him.

I wonder if I would have less unwelcome encounters with annoying people if I blended in with bus-stops a bit better? No, I don't think I could do it. Sorry, camouflage gurus.

* The exhibition at the Imperial War Museum was about camouflage, warfare and popular culture, but as they seem to be a bit strange about unauthorised people linking to their website, I won't.

Oh yes, and I'll just add the usual disclaimer that I'm absolutely not encouraging stalking or similar anti-social behaviour in any way, despite what was considered a healthy past-time for boy scouts in the 1960s.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Eyebrows in Sainsburys

"The One With the Eyebrows. Oooh, those Eyebrows.... something funny about them. Glad he went last week."

I knew what the ladies in front of me in the checkout queue at the supermarket were talking about. They didn't need to say his name, I watch the show too and I knew who they meant. It was an unfortunate contestant on the X-Factor, a TV talent show where aspiring singers get voted off each week when the fickle public doesn't like them enough to ring in with a phone-vote. The singer with the apparently memorable eyebrows was last week's casualty.

I'm afraid I silently agreed with their verdict; I didn't like the eyebrows either. They were quite disconcerting as they moved up and down on his forehead, in time with his singing (which I wasn't keen on either). Who would have thought a couple of hairy facial bits could affect total strangers so much? Poor man, though I suspect it wasn't just the eyebrows that lost him votes...

Idly looking for an illustration (as you do with blogs) I was a bit surprised to find so much stuff about eyebrows, including various books. Several enticing snippets from one author, including how "fashionable women of the early 1700s wore false eyebrows cut from mouse hides to make themselves look perpetually surprised", and the supposed parallels between the fashions, politics and ideology of various decades. The eyebrow varies in different eras - apparently "more perky and defined in the '50s, wild and wayward in the early '70s, powerful and statement-oriented in the '80s." There is also a section on "understanding the allure and hidden messages behind the male eyebrow". All sounds very curious, and I'm mildly surprised that people find enough material to fill books on the subject.

Small though they may be, eyebrows obviously do matter.

* Image is from a website selling false, synthetic eyebrows to people who want them, to replace or augment natural eyebrows lost through ageing, illness or medication.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Anti-Stalker Camouflage Dress

I saw an item about this in several places, including the BBC news website. The only information available is that "a Japanese designer has created a dress that allows women to evade stalkers by blending in with the urban landscape."

No mention of the designer's name or anything else, rather strangely. I'm all for encouraging innovative new designs in clothing (obviously) or I'd have no place working in an art college. I just can't quite see how shimmying into an outfit in an urban street to disguise yourself as a vending machine can be a good way of avoiding the attention of weirdos. Quite the opposite, I would think. Call me a sensible old cynic if you like, but I still can't take it seriously as a crime prevention idea. Is it supposed to be...???

I've never embedded a video clip before - ooh, a blogging first for me! By the way, I'm not trying to encourage you to watch any other sleazy video clips about stalking, just the vending machine girl. You can play it a second time (should you want to!!!!!) by clicking the bottom left little pointy-triangle shaped icon .

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Hottie tagged me recently, and as I'm hibernating today, I thought I'd do the book thing. I'm afraid it's an amended version, due to my strange PhD reading habits.

4 favourite childhood books.

Enid Blyton
I think I read everything she wrote, but particularly liked the Magic Faraway Tree books and the Mystery series. The latter made quite an impression on me, as I loved the idea of solving mysteries, and did my own sleuthing when we got burgled one night while we were living in Zambia. My mum recently produced an old notebook of mine from then, with carefully drawn 'clues' like the broken window and a footprint. Exciting to be able to use my kiddie detective kit and dust for fingerprints with toxic-looking black stuff!! (I was about 6 years old then.) I think the inquisitiveness has been directed, years later, into academic research, so it's nice to know my innate curiosity and nosiness hasn't been wasted.

Alice Through the Looking Glass
I read it much more often than Alice in Wonderland for some reason. There is something mysterious about mirrors that frequently pops up in film, though I can't think of any references at the moment. I'm aware that Lewis Carroll has provoked controversy of late, as with other authors like Enid Blyton who have become viewed by some as not politically correct, and I understand the reasoning and the sentiments behind these criticisms. However, although I enjoyed some books as a child for their fantastic, imaginary worlds which created a love of reading for its own sake, years later, one is made to feel vaguely guilty for admitting to liking them. Though actually, I don't feel guilty, as academic analysis decades later often takes the books out of the cultural context in which they were written and read. It annoys me a bit, as it feels like these criticisms are somehow rubbishing or invalidating happy childhood memories, as if any innocent enjoyment you had from reading those authors is now all 'wrong'. Have either Enid Blyton or Lewis Carroll created generations of monstrous children? Or literate ones?

Books about girls that had careers
Lots of books by authors I can't remember in the Lusaka public library fascinated me. Books like 'Air Hostess Ann', 'Harriet the Hairdresser' and 'Betty the Ballerina', all about girls who wanted to do something with their lives and follow their dreams. The careers in the books are obviously limited by the time they were written... no computer technicians or Cultural Studies lecturers in those days! There was another series about a group of children who all wanted to become actors. The appeal of that career choice still escapes me, though I liked their enthusiasm.

The Chronicles of Narnia
Loved them all, I read them again and again. Preferred them to Tolkein, I'm afraid...

4 authors I'll read again and again.
I've watched quite a few films recently that are adaptations of classics, and they've made me want to go back to the original books that I read years ago. I'm hoping I won't prefer either film or book, or be disappointed when I go back to the original authors, but maybe that both film and book will enhance each other.

Some that I'm currently thinking of:
Charles Dickens - Great Expectations
Emily Bronte - Wuthering Heights
Charlotte Bronte - Jane Eyre
Mary Shelley - Frankenstein
Bram Stoker - Dracula
Daphne du Maurier- Rebecca (I've never read this before, but love the Alfred Hitchcock film)

4 authors I'll never read again.
I have a particular dislike of authors who write non-fiction academic books about really interesting subjects, but their dreadful style of writing makes the text almost impenetrable. It shouldn't be a struggle to read about something you're interested in, and it's not essential in academia to make books completely inaccessible. I'll still have to read them unfortunately, as it's work-related, but I don't have to like them.

4 on my to read list
*sigh* I don't really want to think about this, as I'll be completely immersed in loads of PhD-related books from Christmas onwards... my completion date is summer 2008. That means a hellishly long reading list, with probably a limited degree of interest for most other people.

4 books I'd take to a desert island.
If I'd completed my PhD then I'd take the classics I mentioned above, plus a DVD player to watch all the versions of the films.

I'd also take Last Train to Memphis and Careless Love, a 2-part biography of Elvis Presley by Peter Guralnick. It's extremely thick, the size of several doorstops, and I really should read it as I've had it for a year now. I'd also take some Elvis CDs to accompany it, probably the Sun Sessions and a greatest hits compilation.

But if I was on this desert island before my PhD was finished then I'd have to take a small library with me - 4 books would be useless. I'd probably do a damn good thesis too, with no interruptions.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The wellbeing of parking meters

Maybe I've been working too hard recently, but I woke up today wondering how the parking meters in Lewes were doing, following the bonfire night celebrations this week. I almost felt a bit sorry for them, even though they're inanimate objects. (You can probably tell I don't drive - I'm more of a bus person, really....)

Parking meters in the charming little town of Lewes, in south-east England, have been regularly blown up with fireworks since meters were introduced in that area a few years ago. Over 200 to date have met an explosive fate. It's a shocking headline... parking meter vandals strike again! Another parking meter damaged by a firework!!! That sort of crime must send shivers of horror down the spine of any law-abiding citizen or policeman, though possibly for different reasons.... *shudder*

The 'parking meter bomber' sticks a firework into the coin return slot of the meter, which blows up the meter when it explodes. Apparently the parking meters have their own crime prevention 'crimestoppers' stickers, depicting exploding shrapnel. Bonfires are a huge event in Lewes, with various local societies spending all year planning them, with fires, effigy burning and flaming torch processions taking place all around the town. When the annual bonfire season approaches, the local authority tries to protect the poor parking meters in various ways. Covering them up in hoods, making them 'bomb-proof' by encasing them in metal boxes, or digging them up and storing them elsewhere, only to be returned and concreted back into the ground after the firework season has passed.

I didn't quite believe it when I was told that parking meters were being blown up with fireworks, in protest at the local parking scheme. Maybe because Lewes is apparently a nice, normal English town, the parking meter obsession seemed like a good example of the strangeness of small-town behaviour. It reminded me of David Lynch's Twin Peaks, or the village in the film The Wicker Man. I know weirdness is a relative quality and doesn't have geographical boundaries, but behaviour seems odder when a place is conventionally respectable on the surface, but with curious activities bubbling underneath. Or maybe things just get magnified and blown out of proportion in a smaller town, and seem more strange for that reason. I suppose it's weirdly 'Lewes' that any protest in that place would have to involve a bit of anarchistic pyromania. I should be glad they're only blowing up parking meters and not people, I guess. I wonder whether any of the bonfire societies have burned an effigy of a parking meter on November 5th yet...?

Nothing to do with parking meters, but the butterfly clip from my earring has just come off and got embedded in my keyboard - how the hell am I going to get it out???? Mental note to myself not to fiddle with earrings while half-asleep in front of a computer.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Shocking neglect

Shocking neglect of the blog recently on my part, I've noticed. No particular reason, other than work being completely all-encompassing. I think it's the first time I've juggled several different jobs at the same time, teaching at different levels alongside my research job, with my PhD ticking over in the background. I think "challenging" is the positive word for this situation. It's bloody knackering though. Every available moment seems to be spent either preparing for something or actually doing it, plus travelling backwards and forwards and doing boring (but rather essential) domestic things like shopping, eating and sleeping. I'll have to re-think it all next year when the dreaded PhD is out of the way, now I know how much time and energy things need. I guess I'll have to see where my instincts lead me.

Nothing to do with work really, but I've seen the man in the murder shirt again. Twice in one week. He certainly gets around. I mentioned him before - he had a story scrawled on the back of his white shirt in black felt-tipped marker pen, about how someone tried to murder him, but I couldn't read the whole story as he was walking too fast. I was able to read more this time, as the bus was stuck in traffic. I only noticed him as he was the only person not looking at the photos of naked men and seductive ladies in the College windows.

I may be wrong, but I think he's annoyed about a miscarriage of justice, as he's named some bloke on his shirt as the perpetrator, and said he suffered broken ribs as a result of the alleged attempted murder. Maybe his attacker didn't get prosecuted or adequately sentenced or something, which is why he's letting his shirt tell people about what happened. I wonder if he's got lots of shirts or just the one... it was very clean and crisp looking, so maybe he's got a wardrobe of them... Whatever his situation or his gripe, I find his method of communication much more engaging than holding up a placard outside the Houses of Parliament.

Friday, October 26, 2007

A bubble of what!

Someone called me a bubble of finesse at work today. It was a really strange compliment and I have absolutely no idea what it means, but I quite like it! I think it'll be remembered in our office as a classic bit of weirdness from that particular person.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Insects seem to be quite healthy on a diet of organic vegetables, so maybe they'll work for me too. Some of the creepy crawlies I find clinging on to the food seem astonishingly robust, considering they must have been washed, packed and shrink-wrapped. They're still perky after all that, but they can't have a very stressful life - they don't go to work, or use public transport in the rush hour either (except when they're having a ride home in people's supermarket carrier bags).

I've had a plague of black insects unleashed onto my kitchen blinds from some unidentified, rapidly breeding creature in my broccoli. It took a few days to get rid of them all. I've had a large-ish coppery-brown beetle, about half an inch long, escaping from my mushrooms and leaping into the sink. Bad move actually, with the plughole nearby.... [evil laugh].

Today, I found a bedraggled bird's feather in the watercress. Nearly 2 inches long and that's just the hard quill bit, so not an insignificant bit of down. It put me off making my sandwiches, funnily enough... I kept wondering where the rest of the bird was, wondering if there was a whole dead one minus its feather in some watercress vat somewhere. I made a banana and peanut butter sandwich instead, and there were definitely no little surprises in that, dead or alive.

I know all the insects are organic and probably quite edible to people with unusual tastes in delicacies, or celebrities on reality TV shows, but they're strangely unappetising to me. I think I'll stick with 'normal' veg for a bit, until the memories have faded. My virus has gone anyway, so maybe they did help after all...

PS in case I sound like a hard-faced insect-hater, I'm not. I get spiders out of the bath when they're stuck and put them outside. I just prefer them to do their own insect thing and stay out of my food.

Oooh yes, and I've been doing this blog for a year now - I never thought I'd last that long! I was persuaded to start it by Robin, after some of those conversations we have when 'The Bill' has finished, and also by Dr Klang and Dr Reddington. Well, let's see where it is in another year's time, eh!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Sparse posts + fuzzy brain

My posting has been a bit sparse recently, mainly because of being rather busy at work and being a bit under the weather. There's been a virus going round, and though I've avoided being really ill and officially "off sick" like several colleagues, I've got to the point where my brain goes into fuzzy cotton-wool mode and I don't feel capable of stringing many coherent thoughts together.

Not a problem for a blog, as you can pick it up again when you feel like it, but not great for teaching. Sometimes I find it a strange type of job, as there's a big 'performance' element involved that's quite different to any other work I've done in the past. If you don't feel well in an office job, you can slump over a desk all day, keeping the cups of coffee coming and doing things twice as slowly as usual, dosed up with paracetamol and knowing that you can always finish work off tomorrow. You're there in body, if not in spirit, minimising your sick record even though you're not being exactly productive. Operating in auto-pilot is enough.

You can't really do that with teaching, as you put yourself out there in front of loads of people for a specific time-slot and have to 'deliver', as the jargon goes. I've been doing it for about 6 years now, but still find it difficult when I feel a bit crap. Not spouting completely incomprehensible bollocks (I hope) but feeling like my brain-to-speech co-ordination isn't quite what it should be. Sometimes I feel that I should really be tucked up in bed with a cup of tea, only emerging to watch repeats of Columbo on the telly, but it's not an option.

I know it's not just me, as other tutors say exactly the same things and they've been doing it for absolutely ages... they ask each other how it went, sometimes good but sometimes not great, then plunge into gloom and self-doubt for a while, before having to get on with the next session. It's not always like that (fortunately) as when it goes well, you come out with your head buzzing with ideas, feeling really elated. I thought there might be a magic formula for making every session great, but it seems there isn't.

Luckily, some things have been strangely engaging, which has been a nice diversion from the sickly teaching misery. Not sure why a student was muttering 'justice' over and over again, while working on her Powerpoint presentation of brown poo-shaped lumps of plasticine, but it was a particularly incongruous and slightly surreal sight as she was very happy and smiley. Maybe I'll ask about the meaning of the lumps next week, as they've been rather, erm, thought-provoking.

The same day, I couldn't help having a quick snigger from a safe distance at the sight of a TV shopping channel presenter in the local supermarket. She was stalking around the aisles, pushing her trolley while having a very loud conversation on her mobile phone, obviously dressed for a night out in her killer stilettos. Ooops, she didn't realise she was dragging a long trail of plastic tear-off vegetable bags behind her, tangled around her heels in a bedraggled train of cellophane. She had that "do you know who I am? I'm famous!" manner, which made her look sillier than if it were you or me trailing old rubbish behind us.
I thoughtfully gestured towards the plastic bag mess before she tripped herself up, but she just glared at me. Maybe I should have waited until she got inextricably entwined in the vegetable racks....

Anyway, I suppose I really ought to do some work now. At least I've already done the handouts. Perhaps I can redeem myself this week....

Monday, October 08, 2007

Stench of Death

Got through the week ok, despite having a cold. The conference was as I expected, rather a lot of technical 'snags' despite lots of planning, but that's it till next year. It's an unexpected bonus of doing a conference paper when you feel crap - your nervousness disappears, probably with a large proportion of your intellectual capacity and enthusiasm, but ho hum, that's life. Possibly not very sensible to curse quietly to yourself when the laptop goes into 'sleep mode' if you're standing on a stage in front of a microphone either.

First batch of final year dissertation tutorials done too, and a nice mixture of topics. Size zero models to sustainability, mourning jewellery to religious icons and Freud... the latter was nearly going to be about criminals, as her dad's in the Met, but she changed her mind. I'd have preferred the criminology topic, but it's not my choice to make, as they can do whatever they like.

Probably more than half of the students changed their ideas completely over the summer, so I now realise there's not much point doing too much preparation in future. One asked if she could change from doing the body and 'second skin' to chocolate, as she was more excited by it. Fine by me, after the initial wave of utter horror had passed.

'Horror'??? But everyone loves chocolate, don't they??? A colleague said Mmmm, hope she's going to bring you in some samples! Ooh, no thanks, I hope not. I know it's only a written dissertation on paper and she's not going to make me touch, sniff or eat the stuff, but my first reaction was of dicing with danger.... I've got an extreme allergy to anything with cow's milk in it, even microscopic quantities induce anaphylaxis. I swell up, stop breathing and lose consciousness in minutes. And die, if I don't inject myself with adrenaline and get an ambulance in time.

So the sweet smell of chocolate to some is the putrid stench of possible death to me. A bit melodramatic, but it makes my point. I'm finding it mildly amusing that I'm going to be spending time over the next few months on a subject that would kill me. The Anaphylactic Academic's equivalent of extreme sports by proxy, maybe.

When you start doing dissertation tutorials with students, you can't help noticing things related to their topics that maybe might not have registered in your mind before. The chocolate subject is really interesting, as it's only a load of sugar, cocoa and milk. People get so obsessed with it, and the way it's marketed seems totally unrelated to what it actually is. There was a chocolate fountain mentioned in the wedding plans of a young couple in Coronation Street (Brit TV soap opera) the other night (Sarah Platt, the teenage mum). I couldn't help thinking it was written into the script in a snobby social class sort of way - as if it was a tacky, bad taste thing that wealthy but working-class footballer's wives would have, making it something to be aspired to by ordinary people impressed by the trappings of celebrity. Maybe I'm wrong, but will continue thinking about it!

I like the way the chocolate fountain in the image is lit up from underneath that pink plastic base... illuminates the fruit dips beautifully! (I'm not being sarcastic either, it reminds me of fairy lights, which I'm also rather partial to).

Oh yes, nearly forgot!!! Well, no I didn't, but I'm trying not to be too excited, as it's not very modest. I got 'writing up' status for my first draft of my PhD on Friday, after the meeting with the Professors which I was actually dreading. So I'm officially into my *final year* and have saved loads of money in fees. Apparently I write very well and it's a fascinating subject. Absolutely loads of work to do from now on, but it's a good milestone to reach in a project of this size. It's boosted my confidence a bit too, as you start to oscillate between thinking your work could be either total genius or utter bollocks after a while, as you're too close to it to be objective.

Anyway, that's that for now - have to finish stuff for tomorrow (first seminar of my autumn course) and still feel a bit manky, so I think I'll get on with it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Moth menace

*Happy yawn*.... it was so lovely to wake up today, have a good lie-in and not to have to think about that sodding thesis draft!!!! Yep, I handed the b%&ger in yesterday - with one very incomplete chapter I'm afraid, but ho hum, I did my best. In case you're wondering what all the fuss and angst was about, I ought to point out that it was about one and a half inches thick when printed out - that's a serious wad of paper - and about 80,000 words - yes, the size of a book! Probably won't fit the official 'first draft' definition, but nice to see what I've done so far, and I can stop thinking about it for a while.

So I'm going to have a lovely restful day today, pottering about and starting to plan for the autumn term's teaching, which starts next week, and thinking about autumn clothes. We launch the new term with a cultural studies conference, that I'm giving a lecture at next Tuesday. Apart from writing the paper, I was wondering what to wear, as there'll be 250 pairs of eyes trained on us while we're sitting up on that stage all morning.

It's that time of year when sandals don't seem right any longer and you have to sadly put your toes away till next summer. I was looking at various pairs of ballet pumps I've got, as they go with everything. I wore a black satin pair in the rain a few months ago, tripped over a paving slab and pulled the sole away from the upper slightly. I was going to glue it back when they dried out, but I didn't, as I'm lazy about stuff like that.

Now a clothes moth has apparently moved into the gap in the sole - one flew out of the crevice yesterday, which gave me a rather disgusting fright. I'm worried there might be a whole family in my shoe now, waiting for an appropriate moment to swarm out and embarrass me.... like during a conference. I'd hate to be remembered as the tutor who unleashed a plague of moth vermin into the theatre. Though if I was a clothes moth, and if moths had proper thoughts, I would think.... hhhmm.... Central Saint Martins... nice warm, dark theatre.... lots of fashion people in one room with tasty, expensive clothes... a great moth opportunity for maximum clothes carnage and a total feast... yum yum. But I'm not a moth, and I don't really want to increase the possibility of making a prat of myself at the conference, so I'll bin the shoes and go shopping for some new ones.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Will he or won't he...?

Sometimes doing this death stuff is crap when the academic side gets too mixed up with real-life, personal things. A lot of my work involves talking to people, getting new information to supplement what's already published. It's one of the things you have to do - approach different people, to try to get whatever help they can offer. Sometimes they're really helpful and give you loads of time, but sometimes they're a bit cagey if it's sensitive sales related-info, or if they don't understand academia and you obviously won't make them loads of money, or the nature of their profession makes them a bit suspicious of 'outsiders'. Fair enough.

But occasionally, personal things just happen to be intertwined with academic work more than usual, so it makes things more complicated.

I've been quite keen to write about someone's artwork in my PhD, as I think he'd be an excellent 'case study', especially as he's doing a range of jewellery now. I went home via his new shop the other day after work, to try to sort out an interview and get some more information about it. I wish I hadn't left it to the last minute, as it's meant to be in this chapter I'm supposed to handing in soon... ulp. He wasn't there, but I left a message.

He agreed to help a while back, so it's not a new idea. The trouble is there's some weird history in the background. He was involved with my sister for years, a major relationship for both of them, I think, and they stayed friends even after they'd split up. I contacted him when she was admitted to an intensive care unit about 8 years ago - she'd gone into a coma after taking ecstasy, and died from multiple brain haemorrhages without regaining consciousness, a week later.

It was that horrible scene that's such a cliche in hospital dramas on TV.... standing round someone's bed, watching a person you've known all your life that now looks strangely unfamiliar, bloated and hooked up to equipment and tubes. You don't really know what's happening until the monitor suddenly flatlines and the machines go quiet. Then that's it. A few minutes in the family room with a nurse to tell us about the formalities, then my sister was whisked off for a post-mortem and the bed was prepared for another person.

When we left the hospital, I went for a drink with her ex, meeting up with another of my sister's close friends who lived nearby. Quite weird, as it was a sunny summer Friday evening when normal people were going out for usual after-work drinks, while we'd just watched someone die an hour earlier. Sitting in that quiet beer garden after that didn't seem real. When something really horrible like that has happened, you half expect people to look at you differently, as if somehow, because that's changed you inside forever, it ought to be visible on your outside too. In reality, nobody can tell, unless you're weeping uncontrollably, which we weren't. I don't think it sunk for quite a while. We stayed up late at the friend's flat after the pub closed, drinking and talking, then went home.

He was great, helping me to organise the funeral service, and we stayed in touch for years, until relatively recently. Not to talk about my sister, though she obviously came up in conversation, but it just seemed right at the time. The problem is that you share horrible experiences like that, but over the years people's lives change and each gets on with their own stuff. Just because you've got a death in common, despite the nature of the death or the impact it had, it's no reason to keep in touch with someone, as it's not the central focus of your current life.

He now has a new relationship and seems to be doing really well with his work. I think I could be a really unwelcome reminder of things that he'd rather forget, popping up now to speak to him for my PhD. It would probably be easier right now if I was a total stranger who wanted to know about his work - no history.

But we're not strangers and I still have to do my work, so now I'm waiting to see whether he'll get in touch or not. I wouldn't blame him if he didn't, so I'll just have to wait and see.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Indulgent or pointless?

Occasionally I see or read about odd things and wonder why anyone actually bothered to design them. Selfridges department store in London has opened a new £10 million retail space called the Wonder Room. According to a report in Vogue, "the neo-classical-inspired arcade offers fine jewellery, watches and the most indulgent gifts it's possible to imagine" including "a diamond-encrusted sink plunger by edgy jewellery label Chrome Hearts."

I thought sink plungers were things you use to clear out the manky domestic debris from bunged up sinks and plugholes, before you give up and reach for the bottle of Mr Muscle chemical unblocker. I can't imagine anything more completely pointless and ostentatious than a diamond-encrusted plunger, assuming it's 'life-size.' If it's a miniature, it still sounds equally charmless. Even one made by an "edgy jeweller". Maybe I'm wrong, but I can't imagine anyone who bought (or received) that type of gift actually doing any housework, let alone unblocking a sink. So that makes it either an expensive jokey present or a not very attractive ornament... it just seems a really weird object to decorate with diamonds.

Oh yes... I liked the sound of sparkly flash drives the other day, didn't I... does that make me a hypocrite, for thinking some gem-encrusted objects are nice, but not others? Or maybe it's all relative... how useful or beautiful you feel something is, compared with how much it costs and how rich you are. You subconsciously weigh it up in your head, and then think either "Hhmmm, lovely - great gift!" or "Absolutely ridiculous - more money than taste."

Monday, September 03, 2007

Sparkly USB flash drives

Swarovski and Philips have produced a range of quite glam USB flash drives, called Active Crystals, to make storing your computer files a more sparkly experience.

There are four different models: two heart-shaped pendants on chains and two padlock-shaped ones, to be hung from a key ring. They are all made from polished stainless steel, and decorated in various ways with crystals. The hearts and padlocks open out to reveal a standard USB 2.0 memory key, with 1 GB of storage space.

Some of the pics on the Philips site show the actual devices plugged into a laptop. I thought they looked a bit chunky and seemed to obscure the other ports (sockets) slightly, but presumably they're fine if you don't have loads of other things to plug in. There aren't any prices, but they're supposed to be on the market now.

In case you get the wrong idea, I should point out that I don't like any of the designs I've just mentioned. I'm definitely not a heart fan, and the padlocks are too... well, padlocky.... but I do like the idea of sparkly diamante USB storage devices, though I wouldn't wear a bit of IT kit round my neck - bags are fine for that stuff. Still, if you've got to do something a bit boring but necessary, like backing up your computer files, it's nice if the gadgets and storage devices are a bit more desirable - glamorous or kitsch is fine!

I had to write a paper for our students last term, about sensible computer practice. I was encouraged to point out the possible doom-laden scenarios where they could lose all their precious work - laptops being lost or stolen, computers blowing up and houses burning down (believe it or not!). The point of being a techie gloom-monger was to highlight the importance of making various digital copies of work on disk, memory stick, the network and in different geographical locations (copies at home and college).

Perhaps encouraging slightly paranoid and obsessive computing back-up habits would be a bit easier if students (and staff) had storage devices they actually liked using, whether they're glammed-up and encrusted with crystals, or anything that appeals really... it would work for me!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Resin insect blocks

This new magazine about bugs and insects has free specimens with each issue, preserved in resin blocks.

Each real (dead) insect specimen has apparently been specially grown on farms, specifically for this series of magazines. And 'none of the species are threatened or endangered'.

It's a strange idea to breed large quantities of creatures, just to kill them and embed them in resin, to provide authentic freebies in a mass-produced magazine series. It seems a bit creepy. Doesn't anyone like plastic or wobbly rubber insects any more...?

Friday, August 31, 2007

Blogging, moaning (and why not!)

Sometimes (like today) I still don't feel like I've got the hang of this blogging malarkey, even though I've been doing it since last autumn. Sometimes I wonder why I'm doing it, or wish I had a proper, neatly defined subject 'theme' for it... or 'raison d'etre' (that's pronounced with a South London accent, I'm afraid, as I always hated 'doing' a French accent at school).

Out of my real-life blogging friends, Robin's blog is a lovely collection of drawings and is part of an art gallery project and installation, Helen's is mostly about her music, Matthias writes about cyber law and stuff related to his job, and some of the Librarians at work have occasional whinges, and do blogs about gardening and strange images (anonymously, though I know who they are!).

Usually it's ok and I just write about what I want, so it's probably a bit eclectic. Then sometimes I think that it's not very coherent, zipping from one topic to another, but then again, I don't want separate blogs like the Random Reality ambulance man either. Though he does probably have a zillion readers...

And then there's the death stuff of course, as obviously I think about it and notice stuff going on in the news etc, as I can't do a PhD on mourning jewellery without thinking about the cultural context and there's usually lots to choose from to write about. Presumably I don't write anything that suggests I'm a latent psycho-nutcase from Creepsville (as I'm not) but then sometimes I wonder if it seems a bit weird to write about it in my blog, as it doesn't really 'go' with the other things I write about. My sociology of death supervisor from Bath University said he wished his other students would do a blog like mine, so I guess it's ok really...

And then sometimes I write things and afterwards think, hang on, too much personal information here, so I go back and change posts or delete bits. I've even deleted my own comments in reply to other people, where I thought I'd said too much. Whatever 'too much' is... It all sounds a bit stupid really... maybe I should have done an anonymous blog, then it wouldn't have mattered, but it's too late now, as it's all stuck in archive caches on the internet. The new academic year starts soon, and I guess I'm already thinking about that... none of the other tutors do blogs, as far as I know.

Actually, I don't even know why I'm moaning about all this. What I really want to moan about is my flipping PhD, as it's really overwhelming me at the moment. The proverbial millstone. The mail server's been down since yesterday, I'm still waiting for several people to get back to me by email, I'm surrounded by paper and I'm really sick of it today. Maybe I'll take some library books back to Chelsea, and walk along the river and I'll feel better. Yep, a good plan, if I say so myself, or the rest of the day will be a write-off, if I'm in this mood.

Grim and moany today (rockabilly didn't work its magic this time)

Happy and perky tomorrow (probably...)

Apologies for the tone of this post, but it's a PhD thing, you know. Apparently. I never believed it when other people told me it could be hideous at times, but it's true. It's a wonder anyone ever finishes the things at this rate.

Hhmmm, actually I'm a bit embarrassed to admit it (after all that whingeing) but this has got the moaning-mood completely out of my system. They're almost magical, these blogs, aren't they. And not a single real person's ears had to listen - sighs of relief all round, no doubt.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


I like this image. It's quite fuzzy and low-resolution, but it looks like a sort of quasi-religious pilgrimage, with people carrying candles and gifts, though you're not sure who the people are, or what they're lining up for in the gloomy half-light.

It's fans queuing at Graceland, home of Elvis Presley, on the 30th anniversary of his death. The image is a screenshot from the live webcam set up at Graceland, that's set up to refresh its image every 60 seconds. It's just a fleeting view of the front lawn of the Graceland Mansion at one moment in time, on Thursday 16th July 2007, at 6.05 am, although I was looking at midday on the internet in sunny (!!) London. Maybe I'll think of something fascinatingly incisive to say about this, when I've thought about it a bit more - that would be nice! But not today though, as my brain's in jewellery mode (fortunately).

Several decades on, the level of devotion Elvis still inspires in people seems quite amazing on one level, though with that voice and those looks, maybe not!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Respectably Studious

I'm not sure what the appeal of using different libraries is, but it's definitely there for me! I love going to other libraries and archives! Maybe it's the promise of all those unfamiliar books... lots of new topics just waiting to be trawled through, making fresh ideas pop into your head and prod the research forwards a tiny bit more. Lovely!!!

I've been going to the library at the LSE (London School of Economics) recently, I needed different material to the usual fashion, art and design stuff. It's a nice contrast to ours.... nothing odd going on in the background, like someone filming a giant black and white cardboard model of a cat's head between the bookshelves.

No little luxuries to indulge the visiting researcher either, as in the Goldsmiths jewellery library in the City. Like... someone else fetching your books, doing your photocopying, offering you tea in proper cups and saucers AND other interested listeners at the only table in the room making helpful suggestions - good ones, too!

Nope, it's just loads of social science books, waiting to be browsed through. (I'm probably making myself sound really exciting here, aren't I!! Aah well, there you go!!!)

I like seeing the different types of people at other libraries too. LSE students aren't like art students, perhaps unsurprisingly, quite different styles of clothing. But it's got a nice, respectably studious atmosphere. Everyone there looks very preoccupied and purposeful. It reminded me that I'm not the only person in the country who's not 'away in August', and maybe just a few other people are slogging away during the summer too, trying to get something done instead of having a holiday. It's a funny old business, this academic research thing, but I can't imagine wanting to do anything else!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Zapped by a Pink Seal!

TUPC's comment about the solar bikini reminded me of this weird invention I'd seen recently. It deserves a small mention on the blog, as it's nearly jewellery (sort of accessories for bags, though maybe a bit anti-social).

It's one of those dangly objects you attach to a bag or mobile phone, shaped like a 'cute' pink seal, but with a special hidden property as a 'stun gun' (so it says).

It's battery powered and is designed to give a minor electric shock when applied to the body. Apparently its voltage isn't strong enough to use it as a self-defence weapon, so you should probably avoid any 'have-a-go-hero' antics with this one.

The advertising blurb on the website says: "Who imagines this lovely seal is a stun gun? It gives an electric shock to a naughty guy trying to touch you. Ouch!"

It might not be powerful enough to deter anyone trying to steal your bag, but the blurb does warn against using it on anyone with heart disease, or applying it to a 'delicate part of the body'.

It's sold as a 'funny toy', but it depends on your sense of humour, I guess. Though I quite like the idea that it's the start of Revenge of the Seals, getting their own back on humans and making up for all the real-life baby ones that get clubbed to death by people.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Saturday procrastination

Statistics for blogs are curious sometimes... the things people type into google (or other search engines) to end up on your blog. It seems to go in patterns for mine, I've got lots looking for stuff on peanut butter diamonds at the moment, but all (apparently) from America. It's an easier phrase to remember than 'research into high pressure physics and materials in extreme conditions', I suppose, if you're not a scientist. It made me wonder why the sudden interest... has there been something on the news in that country recently, that got people logging onto their computers to find out more?

There was an Osmonds spate a while back, so I wondered whether they'd been in the media then. Maybe the searchers didn't really want a picture of the fan club's
official battery-powered Osmonds toothbrush, but there you go, that's part of the fascination of blogs. One person's trivia can be interesting to at least one other person in the whole wide world. We are not alone in our obscure ramblings.

I think there will be Elvis searches next week, as it's the anniversary of his death. I've got a nice Elvis bracelet actually, now I come to think of it... I got it from The Girl Can't Help It, a stall in Alfie's Antiques Market, and it's not any old souvenir tat either - oh no. 'Imported direct from Graceland,' I was told. It's got tiny photos embedded in it that look a bit luminous, my favourites being the pink cadillac and 'Hollywood Elvis', as his hair looks nice in that pic. People at work liked it, so it has the Cultural Studies Fashion seal of approval, strangely enough!

Ooh, can I possibly be putting off getting down to some serious writing, procrastinating by woffling on about blog statistics? Surely not! Oh well, back to PhD chapter number 7 again.... hhmm, I think I've said that before...

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Solar Bikini

A bikini incorporating thin, flexible solar film can produce enough solar energy to power an iPod, or other small gadgets.

Designed by Andrew Schneider, the custom-made bikini is retrofitted with 1” x 4” photovoltaic film strips sewn together in series with conductive thread. The cells terminate in a 5 volt regulator into a USB connection.

There's a similar idea produced by Triumph, the lingerie manufacturer, over on a blog about wearable technology. I thought it was a bit ugly really, just like a normal one-piece swimsuit with solar panels stuck on the front, whereas Schneider's bikini looks a bit more Barbarella. If you're going to have environmentally friendly clothing, the aesthetics are still relevant.

The solar bikini was shown at Unravel, an exhibition of fashion at Siggraph 2007, which focusses on computer graphics and interactive technology. It featured a range of innovative and experimental works in 'computational and conceptual couture', socially conscious fashion, science inspired form, and new technology in textiles. As a journalist commented, the aim was to show that the merging of textiles and technology can be elegant and need not resemble a robot's cast offs.

Schneider is working on a male version of the bikini with a larger surface area, (the iDrink) which will allegedly be able to produce enough voltage to chill a single beer in a special custom cooler. He's taking orders already!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Thai police punished with Hello Kitty armbands

Police wearing bright pink armbands, adorned with a Hello Kitty motif and a couple of hearts, on top of their usual uniform?? I thought this was too weird to be true, but apparently not.

Police in Thai capital Bangkok are to be punished for breaking police rules by being forced to wear one of these armbands for several days.

Police officers caught littering, parking in a prohibited area, or arriving late — amongst other misdemeanors — will also be forced to stay in the division office with the deputy chief all day, said Police Col. Pongpat Chayaphan.

"Simple warnings no longer work. This new twist is expected to make them feel guilt and shame and prevent them from repeating the offence, no matter how minor," said Pongpat, acting chief of the Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok.

"Hello Kitty is a cute icon for young girls. It's not something macho police officers want covering their biceps," Pongpat said.

What is Hello Kitty, in case you've never come across it?

The cartoon character Hello Kitty was first introduced by Japanese company Sanrio in 1974. The cute round-faced cat has become an Asia-wide marketing phenomenon, with Hello Kitty products particularly popular with children and young women. The cat can be found adorning products such as diamond-studded jewellery, Fender guitars and digital cameras to lunch boxes, T-shirts and stationery. Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Mariah Carey have been spotted with Hello Kitty gear. Enough said.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

New 24-hour TV Channel for Death and Dying

An around-the-clock television channel devoted to ageing, death and dying will be launched in Germany this autumn.

Documentaries about cemeteries and changing funeral cultures will be shown alongside advice on how to go about finding suitable nursing or palliative care. Other shows will aim to provide viewers with information about undertakers, insurance schemes, meals-on-wheels, stair lifts, bathroom hoists and other medical supplies.

The channel, which pairs 'TV veteran' Wolf Tilmann Schneider, the channel’s founder, with the National Association of Funeral Homes in Germany, seeks to take advantage of the countries changing demographics. In 2006, Germany saw almost 150,000 more deaths than births, a continuation of a trend that has seen the country’s population age dramatically in recent decades.

Kerstin Gernig, spokeswoman for the National Association of Funeral Homes, says there has also been a recent shift in the way people approach death and burial. More people are taking advantage of anonymous burials, for example. Forest cemeteries are likewise becoming more popular, as are Internet graveyards. And the church no longer plays such a large role in the death industry."We want to take a look at the changing nature of mourning and death in the Internet, pictures and movies."

The channel also plans to provide families with an outlet for their mourning by offering 30 second slots as televised obituaries. For an €2,400 fee, the spot will be aired 10 times on the death channel and will also be provided as a video on the company’s website and those of the funeral homes.

As Schneider says, the list of topics for the channel to cover is endless.

(Source: Spiegel Online
, via CDAS at Bath University)

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Time Management and Treats

I've got into a strange full-time research routine now, surprisingly quickly. I read a book a few weeks ago, about managing your time effectively when faced with a huge writing project, so I'm sort of testing it out in practice.

It was recommended by a colleague, who found it helpful when finishing his own doctorate fairly recently. It's 'The Clockwork Muse' by Eviatar Zerubavel, a Professor of time-related subjects. I've read other books on time management which seem to assume you're a bit of a robot, so I was fairly sceptical, but having nothing to lose, I gave it a go.

It does seem very useful. Apart from the obvious practical aspects, like realistic timetable planning, it stops you feeling guilty about not working very productively at certain times of the day, because everyone works best in different ways. I found it helpful in working out my own particular routine that fitted my deadlines, lifestyle and writing habits. It's quite interesting to see how famous authors like Ernest Hemingway or Virginia Woolf approached their own writing. Even with limited experience of using that book, I'd recommend it to anyone doing a PhD (or any thesis, for that matter, including undergraduate).

'Treats' have also been recommended by various people, as little rewards for reaching certain targets. That's the sort of advice I like, though it's probably best that it's not all treats of the consumer variety, or I'll end up very well qualified, but with a hefty credit card bill.

Though I admit I did go shopping when I was stuck recently, and was amused to hear sales assistants in a large department store describing expensive bath products by one of my favourite brands in rather unflattering terms. I doubt whether comparing the scents of their bath oils with 'cheap fruit squash' and 'wee' (AKA 'urine') is in their sales training manual.

But not all treats involve spending money, fortunately.

TV repeats of 'Ironside', the 1960s US cop in a wheelchair series, fitted quite nicely into my last stretch of research leave as a daily lunchtime routine. Excellent costumes and topical storylines (for the late '60's), set against a backdrop of hippies, flower power, Vietnam and the Black Power movement. Great stereotypes too - like an escaped criminal who ludicrously tried to blend in with the local hippies by growing his hair a microscopic amount, and walking around with a book he hadn't even read by Jean-Paul Sartre. Very amusing. Existential philosophy isn't imbibed through your fingertips, strangely enough. I watched the series from the pilot show through to the early 1970s episodes... I didn't like the clothes or the new female cop who replaced Eve Whitfield (socialite-turned-plainclothes-officer with a good wardrobe), so I stopped watching it from season 4.

Anyway... I can't recall Zerubavel saying anything in his book about woffling in blogs, so I'd better get back to the real work!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Summer blogging

I've got a couple of days left at work this week, then my chunk of annual leave starts... and that's when my really intensive thesis workload gets going. From now till about mid September, I'll be reading, interviewing people and writing. It will be hideously busy, but probably do-able in a relatively short burst.

I was wondering whether I would have loads more time that I could spend usefully doing other things (like finishing a PhD!!!!) if I'd never heard of blogs, or started one myself. Or maybe it's become a normal part of my everyday life now, just another way to communicate, find new information and get a strange window into different views, jobs and ideas from reading other people's blogs.

So my summer resolution is that I'll try to resist the urge to either write, or read other blogs, if it seems to be eating into my thesis time. If updating mine is a bit sporadic, that's probably why. On the other hand, maybe that will be impossible to do and I'll end up spending twice as much time on them! Either way, my deadline is fixed, so whatever works best, I guess, as it's very important to me...

I've just realised that my last few words were a slight understatement, as anyone who's done (or is doing) a PhD will know. For those who haven't embarked on that strange academic rite of passage, it's the culmination of many year's work, which is why it matters.... 'Important'? Oh yes.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Marker-Pen Murder Shirt

On my way to work, I saw a man wearing a shirt telling a tale of how someone tried to murder him. He looked quite ordinary, a bit scruffy and in his 50s-60s, striding purposefully up the road with his bag, except for his rather odd shirt. It was just a man's white shirt, worn untucked over a t-shirt, but with lots of writing scrawled on the back in black marker pen. It said that on a particular date a while ago, someone tried to murder him. Unfortunately, I couldn't read the rest, as he was walking very fast in the opposite direction and the fabric was crumpled, so now I'll never know what the rest of the strange story on his back said. It seemed a bit rude to run after him to take a photo and finish reading the text later, somehow.

It's an interesting way to get people to take notice of you, though. If he'd been an everyday sort of ranter, telling anyone he met whatever was on his mind, the usual tactic from the public is avoidance. By writing it on his back, he got attention without anyone having to actually speak to him, unless they wanted to. Well, people at the bus-stop were curious, and I wouldn't mind reading the rest of his tale. It's obviously important to him, whatever it is.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Helmet Hair

An idea from the latest in 1960's fashion prevents lady cyclists from having to choose between their hairdo and road safety. An article in 'Popular Science' magazine from July 1964 gives an alternative:

"Both of these cyclists are wearing crash helmets - the lady's is a nylon-hair wig on a heavy plaster-composition base. Made by a London hairdresser in a variety of colours and hairdos, the wigs are the rage with women riders. Skintight, they are waterproof and can be worn on any occasion."

Well, we can't have ladies compromising their fashionable style and new hairdos out on the roads. I wonder if it caught on? I'd love to see the whole range of styles available. It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase helmet hair...

From Modern Mechanix - a brilliant blog with scanned articles and advertisements from old popular science-type magazines. Looks like ones from the 1920s to 1970s, from a quick glance, though I could (and probably will!) spend hours looking through the whole blog. It's a nice, dust-free way of looking through old magazines, unlike the many days I've spent in museum archives, poring over Victorian undertaker's journals and early 20th century fashion magazines, sneezing from the dust and getting grubby fingers... though the content is usually worth a few sniffles.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Horrible week

I don't know why some weeks are just crap, when several month's worth of annoying things all happen at once. Nothing terrible, just when things break down, and quick jobs turn into long-running sagas, and people or situations that are usually ok suddenly become intensely irritating. You find your patience slipping away and realise you're getting really pissed off, but think, well, it can't get any worse today, until some other person inflicts another totally avoidable situation on you to sort out. And you get a stinking cold on top of that, to mess up your weekend.

Why does it seem to happen like that? We were discussing it during a fire drill the other day at work, as everyone else seemed to be in the same mood. If you were an astrologer, you might explain it away as an unusual planetary configuration causing conflict. Maybe it was around a full moon, when everyone is supposed to get a bit moody and irrational. Or perhaps grumpiness is contagious, where one person is in a foul mood and really rude, and it has a knock-on effect, sending everyone else they deal with into a bad mood too.

Anyway, it was one of those weeks, and I'm glad it's over.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

"I'd Rather Be Pixelated Than Wear Fur"

Stella McCartney will co-host the world's first virtual anti-fur protest with PETA in Second Life, the 3-D online world with 7 million residents. From July 12th, for one week, a dedicated island will host a celebration and picnic. The island design, inspired by the harmony of the English countryside, will feature stables, horse jumps, a lake, picnic tables, Linda McCartney mini-veggie-burger stalls, a "live" DJ booth and both Stella McCartney and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) information tree-houses.

McCartney says "sometimes it's nice to have a bit of humour on serious subjects." Visitors can wear a T-Shirt with the slogan "I'd Rather Be Pixelated Than Wear Fur", a play on PETA's iconic slogan "I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur. " Guests are invited to think up new anti-fur slogans, with entries being displayed on the island as they are submitted.

I must admit I'm not in the best position to comment on this, having no personal experience of either Second Life or real life anti-fur protests, but I'm interested in how this might develop. I was wondering how real life and virtual protests might compare, and if this is the first virtual one, does that mean there will be more? If there are virtual demonstrations with other virtual groups 'present' who disagree with those views (as people do), will there be clashes or riots, and virtual police to keep them apart... or is it so utopian that it isn't necessary? I'll have to find someone to help me check this out, as it sounds quite interesting!

For less geeky readers, a pixel is a tiny digital dot that digital pictures are composed of. Loads of pixels or 'picture elements' make up each image you use on the computer.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

End of an Era

I wasn't in work today, so I watched the daytime coverage of Tony Blair's last speech in the House of Commons. It was quite moving actually, he got a standing ovation from the House, and even David Cameron was nice to him! Even though I haven't always agreed with his policies, making Labour electable again was the best thing he did, for so many people.

Growing up with the Thatcher government was so depressing, it seemed never ending and it must have politicised a whole generation, not just me. Every time they appeared on the news with another policy initiative, it felt like they had absolute contempt for most of the working classes, I'd never felt so patronised by such an apparently smug bunch of politicians before. It really felt like they were putting the boot in sometimes, and were kicking ordinary people when they were down and just needed a bit of help. Maybe I got the wrong impression, but they really seemed totally heartless to me at the time.

Sometimes I see ex-Thatcher cabinet members doing their shopping round here. It's interesting in this area, as quite a lot of politicians have flats here because it's near Parliament. It's quite weird seeing them, they're just like their Spitting Image puppets, but buying their fruit and veg in the market, or collecting shoes from the menders, or (really scarily, if you're ill!) waiting in the doctor's waiting room at the local GP surgery (not to be treated though!). They look surprisingly benign in real life, considering some of the policies they came up with. Even the one described as having 'something of the night about him...'

I think I'll always remember when Labour got elected again, because it felt like a horrible all-encompassing toxic cloud had just disappeared. I doubt it would have happened that way if Tony Blair hadn't been leader, so that's quite a legacy. And it'll be interesting to see what Gordon Brown does next.... apart from welcoming more defecting Tories, maybe!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Visit to Kubrick archive

The archive of the work of late film maker Stanley Kubrick has been acquired by the University of The Arts London, and should be open to the public in October 2007.

Some of Kubrick's films were 'Spartacus'; 'Lolita'; 'Dr. Strangelove'; '2001: A Space Odyssey; 'A Clockwork Orange'; 'Barry Lyndon'; 'The Shining'; 'Full Metal Jacket'; 'Eyes Wide Shut'.

Even if you're not a film historian, many of the themes in his work are still thought-provoking and relevant today, including war, nuclear threat, urban breakdown, crime, youth gangs, technological change, artificial intelligence, space exploration and changing sexual attitudes.

Someone in my department arranged an 'office outing' for us to check it out, as it's a collection which would be useful for some research projects, and the archive is keen to attract future collaborations.

We were shown props from films (a few masks, a model of a severed head), cameras, boxes of publicity materials for 'Clockwork Orange', including original copies of newspaper reports, and other ephemera like the iron-on patch (above). The archive includes scripts, production notes, research, correspondence, storyboards, annotated books, sketches, photographs, 35mm film and out takes, videotapes, scores, sound recordings, models, set designs, props, costumes, lighting plans, equipment and memorabilia.

There are boxes of British and international comics, from the late 20th century Comic Collections, stored there too. I had a poke about in boxes of Doctor Who and Batman, which reminded me of all the American imports we had when I was a kid living in Zambia, and some of my colleagues swooped onto boxes of Ironman.

It's all housed in a purpose built location at the London College of Communication, in south London. It's got 'high-tech' temperature control, shelving and lighting, and a very impressive glass entrance and doors too - beigey-coloured, opaque glass, so you can't actually see into the rooms when you arrive, as if the the walls and doors have been lined with brown paper on the inside. Then with a flick of the remote control, the whole glass frontage becomes clear, revealing the interior of the archive entrance! Apparently it can be used as a screen to project onto, and is made of LCD technology.

Then we went to the pub to have our weekly team meeting... and someone had the brilliant idea of starting a film club at work, so fairly productive and a nice change from being in the office all afternoon!