Sunday, 28 June 2009

Aged Ps

My mother tells me she is going to do a parachute jump. I asked her if it was revenge for all the times we've made her worry, and she reacted with surprise at the idea that we might worry. I said surely she would worry if me or my brother did a parachute jump, and she said that since it's very safe she might as well worry about me crossing the road in Cambridge. Then she paused for thought and admitted that she does worry about me crossing the road in Cambridge. So I had to reassure her that I am always very careful when I cross the road. We left the conversation at this point, by mutual consent.

My father is involved in a court case and has had to swear a legal oath about a hermit. This is very much the sort of thing which might have happened in the eleventh century, and got recorded in passing in one of the charters I work on. My dad was friends with the hermit through their mutual love of trees, but whereas my father somehow lives in the world, the hermit had retired to a hut in the woods somewhere and made an amazing garden or arboretum. Now the hermit's dead my father is involved in trying to save the garden, which means proving how long it had been under cultivation. My father is able to provide evidence about this through his records of the plants he had donated for the purpose, and the oath was specifically about the rosa cymosa named after me, which apparently flourishes there, somewhere hidden in the north of Cornwall.

In other news, apparently if you want a cigarette you should ask someone in their right ear. Also from boingboing, a leech-powered barometer. And I have broken my toe, but not badly, just enough to hobble about for a bit.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009


Also good: DVDs. I have joined one of those rental things. I did this once before but had to stop because it was while I was teaching and I had no spare time. (I find that I rather miss teaching, though it's a perverse time of year to think that.)

1. Raffles! I used to love these books as a teenager. Raffles is a gentleman thief; he steals things in order to keep playing cricket for England. His sidekick is Bunny, a round-faced young man who was his fag at school. They wear evening dress with capes, and rob country houses while wearing white gloves and top hats. I recommend these highly; for one thing they're from the era before jerky distracting camera work, and for another Anthony Valentine is oddly compelling in the lead role. I can't find a DVD of Dr Syn (or was it Dr Sin?), the smuggling clergyman of Romney Marsh, although I know there was a TV adaptation of that too.

2. Pulling. The first series was a bit meh. The second series and the final special are very funny.

3. The Larry Sandars show. Excellent stuff.

4. My So-called Life; disappointing so far. Maybe because it's very hard to feel any sympathy for the Claire Danes character, who keeps saying tasteless things about envying Anne Frank.

5. Firefly. I thought I ought to watch this if only to get the in-jokes in xkcd and google demonstrations. (If you watch this google wave demonstration there is a bit where it talks about real-time collaboration which I guarantee will make you shudder and feel ill with the sheer possibilities for endless endless talking.) Also I went to see the film Serenity in the cinema with a friend who was expecting it to be an intellectual anti-war polemic because he'd heard it mentioned on Radio 4; I don't think he was terribly impressed but I thought it was great. Anyway, it's really excellent, like a sort of Western (with horses and shoot-outs and everything) set in the defeated American South but in space! I can't believe they cancelled it after one season.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009


Hurray for paperbacks! If you don't think you're ever going to reread them you just give them to Oxfam. I've been rereading lots of Iain Pears' excellent art-history crime books, and also some Perez-Reverte. The latter is part of my quest to find a book written after 1914 which my boss would like. The Fencing Master might do, but I think The Dumas Club has the wrong sort of sex in it, which is a shame, because he's a big fan of Dumas.

In new books, I enjoyed Me Cheeta. When it came out in hardback it was anonymous, or at least purporting to be by Cheeta, but now it has someone's name attached. Well done James Lever! It's very funny and mimics the bitchy Hollywood tone perfectly. Also Cheeta's love for Tarzan (Tony Weissmuller) is very touching, and it has an amusing index, which is quite a hard thing to pull off. It's probably the sort of book that would make a good present. But not for anyone who doesn't like the idea of chimpanzees snorting cocaine from the breasts of nubile starlets. So probably not my mum.

Tibor Fischer's Good to be God is also good, but he's yet another one of those authors whose work I read, and enjoy, but put down thinking how much better their earlier stuff was. I love The Thought Gang and The Collector Collector (and I know that not loving Under the Frog so much is a sign of my unintellectual nature).

I read The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perotta. All the characters were very 2-D, verging on stereotypes, and I found it hard to get worked up about it. It has gone straight on the Oxfam pile.

I read Alan Moore's Watchmen. I enjoyed it. But it's interesting that even though comics don't have to be geeky, they are. Also naive -- why on earth would an alien landing in New York pull the whole world together in harmony during the Cold War? The same political antagonisms would continue. Isn't that how the Romans conquered Gall? Anyway, now I too am a geek, arguing about the logical inconsistencies in comic books.

Eamon Duffy's one-volume history of the papacy is good. I have the Oxford Dictionary of Popes, but I've never really read it all the way through rather than just dipping in to work out which of the (generally nauseating) popes of the tenth and eleventh centuries were involved in various things I'm working on. Now I want to read a biography of Marozia. Maybe I should write one. I could put it together with some other short lives in a collection called "Genuinely Revolting Women". I hate this feminist thing where you have to be on the side of all women ever and you can never disapprove of anything they did -- it's very patronising. Marozia's story would all be a bit too schlocky for a novel; my advice is that if you ever come across a novel based on the life of Marozia, avoid it. I read a novel once about the life of that Spanish woman who was Lucrezia di Borgia's sister-in-law, and that was a mistake. Also, novels about anyone with the surname Boleyn.

And I finished the Arcadia book. It was interesting but irritating. For one thing when he transcribed original documents there were tons of instances of words like "pishe" which were quite clearly meant to be "parishe", and he's just failed to notice the tag on the back of the p which shows it's short for par or per. This really annoyed me.

Saturday, 6 June 2009


Voting the other day was surprisingly quick. Usually there's at least a bit of a queue, but I put Do You Wanna Funk? on my ipod as I left the house, and it was just finishing as I let myself back in later. Good voting music:

I was amazed at the number of parties up for the European elections. There were loads along the lines of Libertas and UKIP. I assume they badly split the grumpy anti-Europe vote. I was impressed by the name choice of the Jury Team, who were presumably disappointed that Justice Squad is already taken; they were one of the few not to have bombarded me with leaflets covered with WWII iconography, so I don't know what they actually stand for, but I'm guessing it's an increase in costumed vigilantes. My favourite leaflet started "British MPs are badly failing the UK's animals!" which I thought was pleasantly unpredictable. That was for the Animals Count party, for which I would have voted if I had been going to choose a non-serious party. As it was I went for the Lib Dems. They're great at local politics, and put stuff through my door about tree-planting schemes and such all year round, plus although I don't care greatly about MPs' expenses I do like the fact that the Cambridge Lib Dem MP has claimed zero pounds of second-home expenses in the last three years, and just commutes to London, like a normal person. Plus the list of Lib Dem candidates for Europe included both women and people who sounded a bit foreign. Go Lib Dems!

The sad truth is that even though I'm an adult and supposed to know by now I really don't quite understand what European MPs do, let alone have an answer to the question of Europe. I envy people who have opinions on big issues at the drop of a hat, although obviously I also think slightly less of them. There are tons of really important things on which I don't yet have a proper opinion, like abortion, though I do know that I could never in a million years vote for someone who would reduce the legal ability of women to make their own minds up about this. Long may it remain not an electoral issue in the UK!

Tuesday, 2 June 2009