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.