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.