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...?