Friday, 31 December 2010


In 2011 I am going to try to blog briefly about everything I read.  Now I no longer get to keep all my books (and I'm still finding that a bit painful) I'd like some other way of keeping track of what I have read.  (Plus I would be interested to know how many books I get through -- I've got nearly 60 things in the Finished folder on my Kindle so far.)  I might try to catch up a bit as well, and blog about some things I've read over the last few months.

Also I think I might watch the whole of Battlestar Galactica again.  I like the cylons with their side-to-side red eye lights and Greek-inspired design.  I'm more afraid of the ancient Greeks than of dinosaurs.

I am also going to develop an opinion on East Coast versus West Coast rap.  In a way I've missed that particular question, but I know there's really good rap out there that I'm not hearing.  I've given up on modern art and the theatre, but I think that if I really try to listen to rap properly I'll get something back from it.

Three resolutions is enough.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Dreaming of a green New Year

Hurray, I can see some grass!

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Oh how I hate facebook

I had an e-mail today to say Welcome back to Facebook!  And that if I hadn't reactivated my account I should go to facebook help.  Of course it wasn't me who reactivated my account.  So I have just spent half an hour having to reactivate it in order to change the password and then removing all information from it -- the profile picture alone had to be deleted from several different places, and it wouldn't let me delete my name, birthday, or gender.  Just out of curiosity I looked at its page of suggested friends, and became absolutely furious about the accuracy of its predictions.  It has to have had access to my e-mail correspondence in some way to do that.  There's no other way it would suggest I should be friends with Kevin Kiernan, Professor of English at Kentucky, with whom I once shared a conference session and a brief polite argument about manuscript digitisation.  Last time I tried to get rid of facebook you could only deactivate your account, but now you can delete it, so I've set that in motion.  It takes fourteen days.

Possibly my account was hacked.  Christmas is the season for hacking and spamming, I suppose because a lot of bored people have time on their hands.  But if I were facebook I would send that message to all deactivated accounts from time to time, to force them to reactivate and perhaps lure tham back in for monetisation.

I first got a facebook account at the instigation of a friend who wanted to show me something he thought was funny, and which I really didn't, and that's been my whole experience with facebook ever since.  I have never looked at anyone's facebook page without thinking just a little the less of them, which is why it's not for me, because I like to like my friends.  I can't believe how much of my time and patience that website has taken up.

Of course I probably wouldn't be in such a bad mood if the snow had thawed.  It's ten days since it fell and it's pretty much all still there.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Happy Christmas!

The very low temperatures have made the snow go all sparkly in the Christmas sun.  It was cold as predicted on the way to church -- people said that it was minus 12 -- and then when we got there the heating was broken and so we all had to sit shivering in our coats and scarves.  Everything anyone said hung in front of them in a mist, and you could see when people were whispering to each other.  No one had told me in advance that I was doing the reading, but it was OK because it was an excellent shouty one from Isaiah, lovely feet on mountains etc.  At communion (I took off my gloves for it) when the vicar handed out the consecrated bread she also gave each of us a chocolate coin.  I don't know what the liturgical traditionalists would make of this but I thought it was quite nice.

The sermon was all about the BBC's dramatisation of the nativity, which to be honest annoyed me a bit, because I've been avoiding it all week when my parents watch it, and I don't need some Eastenders writer to point out to me that it must all have been very difficult at the time.  From a young age I saw the nativity tale as a horror story and it's taken me a long time to make any peace with it.  My favourite thing anyone's ever said about it was Rowan Williams pointing out that small babies are alien and hard to understand.  The churches round here are great for fellowship and being kind to each other, but not excellent at the sermons.

The people next door have no heating because the oil in their tank has frozen.  But the BBC predicts better weather tomorrow.  In the meantime I'm proud of the university I went to.  I like to think that if anyone had tried to censor my post-grad work my head of department would have written similarly, but oddly enough no one was that outraged by my edition of the Life of St Cuthburga or my analysis of the manuscripts made at Bury St Edmunds in the eleventh or early twelfth century.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Weather forecast

It's predicted to be minus 9 tomorrow morning when we walk to church in the village, but then we did have some actual sun today.  The icicles have got a bit out of hand.  There are some really long ones by the front door, and the wisteria is smothered in them.  It won't take much more to pull the whole structure off the wall, and the ground below is already covered in little shards that look like broken glass.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

The hills are back!

I can see the distant hills again!  This has lifted my spirits even though logically it's a bad thing, since it means the fog has lifted, which in turn means that there is slightly less material between us and the infinite depths of cold space, which means low temperatures.  Nonetheless, hurray!
Distant hills!
Otherwise the snow is still here, perhaps a little diminished on some of the gateposts.  My parents have been hunting tracks in the snow.  I'd like to be the sort of person who goes out into the cold to look for animal tracks but I'm the sort of person who stays at home and blogs instead.

Anyway, here's an excellent video of babies bouncing along to German Industrial music (off of Boing Boing).

A friend sent me this, explaining the Dude in the Big Lebowski as a Christian ascetic in the holy fool mode.  I quite like this, but it does beg the question: what about Maude Lebowski?  She sees through her father's pretensions, and devotes herself to her "strongly vaginal" art.

Here's a man who has made suspenders for low-hanging trousers.  If these caught on the world would be a wonderful and surreal place.  Over time trousers become like loose heavy stockings, and pants are recognised as outerwear.

And here are two great Martin Solveig and Dragonette songs (off of popjustice).  There's something about how Martin Solveig looks which only a Frenchman could get away with.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Bored of snow

The snow's not really melting here.  I don't think we've had any more, but the trees and hedges are still loaded with it.

Our trip to Tesco was clearly hubristic.  In my excitement at getting out I had forgotten how horrible supermarkets are just before Christmas, negociating your way past people with two full trollies, searching for bread sauce, while the PA system blares out a ska version of Mary's Boy Child.  On the way back there was a bus stuck in the middle of Uffculme and lots of us had to go in convoy across the back roads.  We got over several humpback bridges and then loads of us got stuck at the bottom of a slope.  We all took it in turns to push each other up the icy hill, which was nervewracking because it was hard to get a grip.  When we got back home someone had pushed their broken-down car across our drive, clearly mistaking it for a place where no one would ever want to go.

Anyway I don't think there's any chance I'll get away again until at least after Christmas.  This isolation ought to make it easy to do work but I just obsessively check the BBC weather forecast.  It's always predicting milder weather for the day after tomorrow.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Still too snowy

There's been no more snow in the night.  With much digging, and pushing, and bickering, my parents and I managed to get both cars out, and they've gone off to try to get the tyres changed.  I know one's not supposed to say I told you so, but I did suggest this three weeks ago, and they pooh-poohed me.  Every now and then I can just see the hills from my window, but mostly it's the same as yesterday, with the ground brighter than the sky.  If all goes well with the tyres we might attempt a Christmas shopping trip to Tesco.  That's excitement for you.

It may be getting on my nerves, but this weather does have some odd beauty to it.  The hedges and trees have big globs of snow in them as if shot from a foam cannon.  You can look straight at the sun, which looks like the moon but slightly lemonier.  And today we have icicles.  The wisteria on the side of our house by the front door has become completely covered in them overnight.  I took this video while they were melting a bit in the sun.  That's stopped now, though.

Wisteria with icicles
The ice has completely covered some of these red stems
Look how thick the ice is round the twig on the left
There are little icicles all through the wisteria

Monday, 20 December 2010

The late 80s were like this


From one of those best books of the year lists:

4. Christian Hawkey’s Ventrakl explores ideas of authorship and collaboration through the act of translation. Hawkey didn’t know German when he began translating Georg Trakl’s poems, and so he integrated creative techniques like using using an online translation program, shooting the text with a 12 gauge and translating the perforated page, and leaving pages exposed to the elements for a year before translating what remained. In doing so, Hawkey physically represents (and augments) the inherent degradation of the original text that occurs in translation. Ventrakl is as much a book of poetry as it is a meditation on how the identities of the author and translator merge. The result is haunting and beautiful.

Hello from snowy mid-Devon

On Wednesday I went to Tesco with my mother.  I should have enjoyed it more at the time, because it looks like it was my last outing for quite a while.  Last night there was another six to eight inches of snow, and I think we might count as snowed in.

We did actually go out yesterday evening.  My father has been in China at a conference on biodiversity, not Graun-style whole ecosystems biodiversity but the biodiversity of some particular species or groups of species of shrub.  It's important to have lots of genotypes.  His flight back was diverted from Heathrow to Edinburgh, and he was very lucky to get a flight down to Exeter airport.  However, that meant my mother had to collect him.  I didn't want her to go alone because it was forecast to be minus seven last night, so we loaded the car with shovels, blankets, foodstuffs and grit, and headed off.  It took us twenty minutes to get 200 yards to the pub -- luckily for us our nextdoor neighbours came and helped me push the car over the difficult bits.  Anyway we did eventually get him home, and though we couldn't get the car back in the drive at least we left it out of people's way.  But it made it clear just how unlikely it is that we're going anywhere.  If I got appendicitis I expect I could, eventually, be got to a hospital, but short of that extreme measure I'm stuck here.  And I can't see the hills from my window.
Desk view: note lack of distant hills
Even my dad's bamboo is holding a surprising amount of snow:
Spot the blue tit
Here's the gate to the garden and paddock.
The theme is snow
To photograph this teasel I walked into snow deeper than my wellies.
Snow is heavy
There are also some icicles, which are quite pretty, and which are melting in an encouraging fashion.
Anyway I'm not going out again without my sunglasses.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Getting hay to alpacas before sunset

It's real Oh-let-me-see-thy-footmarks-and-in-them-plant-mine-own weather out there. My mother says the way to deal with it is to put alpaca fluff or hay in your boots. We got hay round to all the alpacas before the sun got too low, but it's nearly gone now.  The thaw stopped a couple of hours ago, and the snow that's left we're stuck with.  In places which have been shady all day the snow is eight or nine inches deep.

Unfortunately I can't find my proper camera so these pictures are from my mobile phone, and not very good.

This wether is clearly well insulated

They fell on the hay I was carrying as if starved, but actually they still had some left in their shelter

The winterburn is frozen

At the back on the right is baby Jemima
It's going to take ages for my toes to defrost.

The big thaw

I love watching a really big thaw, it reminds me of the end of the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Right now it's only snowing here if you stand underneath the trees. We had about six inches overnight, a proper snow where everything turns white, and now the sun is melting it. It was uncanny at about three in the morning: the moonlight reflected on the snow so that it never got dark, and the light shone in through my curtains all night.

We have an arrangement in the village about newspapers. No one is going to deliver papers around here, not least because none of the streets have names and the houses don't have numbers. But the nearest newsagent drives out every morning with our paper orders, and they get left on a table in the women's loo at the pub. The pub's loos open onto the street -- you have to go out of the pub and a little way down the road to get to them. Everyone picks up their paper in the morning when they walk the dog or whatever. The newsagent politely tucks my Saturday Guardian inside the Daily Telegraph so that my father doesn't have to feel embarrassed carrying it home.

When I got up this morning it was quite clear that none of us were going anywhere, and that the newsagent would not have driven up Cork's Hill with our papers. But just now we got a phonecall from Trevor Underhill, saying he'd taken his tractor down and collected the papers himself. Trevor Underhill is a proper old-style farmer. He's been retired for years, but he can't stop doing farmery things, and he cuts the hedges and brings in people's hay for them. He has a Devon accent as thick as clotted cream, and relatively few teeth.

If we ignore what Thatcher did to the Tories and what Blair did to Labour and think back to older political divides, even though I still think that we have a duty to care for each other because life is too random to assume everyone can make it on their own, I can see the attractions of the Tory way because it's how people live here. If something gets broken or stuck here, the farmers fix it. In the last big freeze one of our outdoor taps broke, and the farmer who has the next field rummaged through his box of random useful bits and pieces until he found just the right fitting to mend it. So next time my mother went to Mole Valley Farmers she bought him a replacement, but it meant the tap was fixed quickly and without fuss. When my parents ordered some concrete and the idiot suppliers sent it in a 32-ton lorry which unsurprisingly got stuck in the field, Trevor bought his tractor down, and called a friend, who called another friend, who called the man with the biggest tractor in the village, and with those four tractors they dislodged it. That sort of pugnacious attitude to problems is probably the only way to keep going as a farmer. You can't be a farmer and expect the government or any sort of central authority to help you out.

I'm going to walk down to the pub now and get my Guardian. Hopefully Trevor has not discriminated but brought them all -- unless he felt that Guardian-readers have no right to profit from acts of private enterprise. Later I'm going to help my mother with alpacas, so I'll try to get some pictures.

Friday, 17 December 2010

A few more things

Amanda Palmer has released an anti-pube-shaving song.  It's quite good.  In a way that's pretty typical of her uniqueness she manages to make a post about it into a story of the best "sorry for your loss" present ever.

Blimey the Graun is good at making pop sound like a dull chore.  I might try out this album, though.

I want to make my own recycled train set but my nephew is too young for it and he's my excuse for this sort of thing.  For his birthday earlier this week I got him a Noah's Ark set, which he loved, and my parents got him a Trunki ride-on suitcase, for which he went absolutely crazy.  He's probably also too young for Bad-Ass Lego Guns.  *sigh*.

Apparently our universe shows signs of being bruised by collisions with other universes.

If you want to join in all the wikileaks fun then then why not put an encrypted version of the cables on a swish USB stick and wear it as jewellery?

I like that this website gets people to recommend the books they've enjoyed most this year whenever those books were released, so you end up with something a bit more interesting than just loads of people recommending Franzen's Freedom.

Get that imposter pug! Get him!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Things I have learnt

The Italians have some odd ideas and we should probably just let them get on with it.

I'll post some alpaca pictures when I can get some good ones.  Here is a story about an alpaca in a hospital.

You can buy maps printed on thin cloth.  I may have some sort of map-buying problem.

Sheep live in hobbit houses.

One of my old students is undergoing discernment to be a vicar.  I think this is quite cool.

I'm a bit sad about the demise of X Magazine, because after the end of the X Factor was when it was going to get good, with less about X Factor contestants and more general pop stuff like Smash Hits.  Alas.

Sunday, 12 December 2010


There was the most beautiful hoar frost while I was in Cambridge, and everything was covered in surprisingly long ice spikes.  Here's Cranmer Road pretending it's in a fairytale, white vans and all.

You could put the far end of Cranmer Road in a fairytale because it does feel a bit shifted from the rest of Cambridge, a degree or two colder and not quite in the same place.  Also the new Parker Library is haunted by inexplicable laptop typing noises.  The old one was haunted by the ghost of when M. R. James got locked in on a winter's night and had to break a pane of glass to attract the porters' attention.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Twitter and TV

I tend to keep an eye on Twitter while I watch the X Factor, and Richard P. Bacon has just expressed the opinion that anyone who enjoyed that Black Eyed Peas performance is a moron.  I enjoyed that performance by the Black Eyed Peas because it's pleasantly silly, and I do have the Dirty Bit song on my ipod to help keep me struggling onwards as I walk through the slush to the UL.  I'm not saying I'm completely the opposite of a moron.  But I will go up against Richard Bacon in a moron-off any day.

Edit: here's the official video.

PS hair whipping

You've probably come across Whip My Hair by Willow Smith.  Forget how old she is, and who her father is, and it's a very good pop song.  Remember those things and it's a bit depressing.  Anyway it's released now.  The video is embedding disabled by request.

If Cowell picks this for the Winner's Song you'll know it's a fix for Cher.

Cantab. misc.

Well, I'm in Cambridge again, on a trip I've had to organise quite carefully to fit in with other things, like a talk I gave on Thursday night in London, which was quite good fun.  Even though it's always a bad time in Cambridge, I accidentally picked a particularly bad time to come up, having failed to notice that it was a) Commemoration of Benefactors b) interviews season.  I'm going to buy a card for the woman who found me a college room despite all this, to thank her and apologise.  At the Commemoration of Benefactors service they read out the names of all the college's benefactors, starting with a brewer called Margery, and then one of the fellows gives a short talk about some aspect of the college's history.  There's a pleasing old-school piety about it, piety in the old Roman sense of remembering the ancestors.  The interviews, on the other hand, are very much of the now.  I get really annoyed whenever I hear people moan about Oxbridge admissions, because I know how much sincere effort is put into it in Cambridge at least.  Almost everyone is completely taken over by it for about a week or more, and there is constant discussion at lunch about how to be fair, and what's the best way to look for potential rather than the effects of past tutoring.  It's really hard work to do, I remember well, because you're dealing with seventeen-year-olds and you want to give them as many opportunities as possible in a short time to show you that they can think.  Now that I haven't done it for a few years I've got a good outside perspective on the vast amounts of effort that everyone puts in.  I had a job interview a while ago at a top UK university, one of the best non-Oxbridge ones, and when I asked how they went about selecting their students from the applications, the head of the department couldn't tell me, and the whole panel talked about it as some dull duty they'd managed cleverly to avoid.  While in Cambridge it's seen as something you'd want to have a say in, an important part of what a university does.

When recently Die Antwoord were "all up in the interweb", as they put it, I didn't pay a lot of attention because so much of the coverage seemed to about the unusual disease which one of the bandmates has.  Plus what are the chances that Boing Boing and I would share a taste in music?  But I quite like this one:

That's the clean version, which has lots of punch and slap noises over the words in an "Uzi lover" style, which I find quite funny.

Although getting the internet in my current room involved moving all the furniture and unscrewing a mystery white box using the end of the squashed penny I got at Bristol zoo with my little nephew (it made me feel like the evil bloke from No Country for Old Men, except that he used unsquashed pennies with no sentimental value), and then buying a cable from the big Tesco's and getting involved in a minor car crash in the taxi on the way back, plus the usual restarting and endless retyping of credit card details, now I've got it working it's so much faster than Devon internet that it feels really luxurious.  I can watch YouTube videos without having to pause and wait for the download to catch up, and I can stream live TV using

Aso here are some good photographs I saw on the web.  These two large photos of stock exchanges are very striking.  Here's a thing about making real life things look like models.  Here are some good London photos.