None Of The Above
the motive-hunting of motiveless malignity
Wednesday, December 31, 2003

That's 'dwarves' with a V!

Never underestimate the publishing industry's capability to sell us the literary equivalent of an thirty-year-old rusting Ford Escort while claiming it's practically brand new, honest, hardly even been out of the garage. They've been doing it for decades, and they're not going to stop now. I thought I was ahead of this game myself, muttering darkly about how Harry Potter wasn't anywhere near as original as everyone else thought (to be fair, this was while I was buying Order of the Phoenix, so make of that what you will). But I obviously wasn't as jaded as I thought, because this story still surprised me.

It's about a new author, 20-year-old Christopher Paolini, whose fantasy novel Eragon has been amazingly successful. The Telegraph article linked says it's been 'outselling Harry Potter,' which is presumably quite impressive even if every household on the planet owns all the Harry Potter books by now. It's making a fortune, everyone loves it, Paolini has been described as 'the next Tolkien,' and so on. But... well. Here's Amazon's summary:

"Eragon, a young farm boy, finds a marvelous blue stone in a mystical mountain place. Before he can trade it for food to get his family through the hard winter, it hatches a beautiful sapphire-blue dragon, a race thought to be extinct. Eragon bonds with the dragon, and when his family is killed by the marauding Ra'zac, he discovers that he is the last of the Dragon Riders, fated to play a decisive part in the coming war between the human but hidden Varden, dwarves, elves, the diabolical Shades and their neanderthal Urgalls, all pitted against and allied with each other and the evil King Galbatorix. Eragon and his dragon Saphira set out to find their role, growing in magic power and understanding of the complex political situation as they endure perilous travels and sudden battles, dire wounds, capture and escape. "

Hands up, everyone who thinks that sounds familiar. It might be a beautifully written novel, but even so, it's still pieced together from every other fantasy novel ever published. Eragon's name is not a million miles away from another last-hope-for-the-future fantasy hero, currently being played in an impressively long-haired way by Viggo Mortensen on a screen near you, and Anne McCaffrey's lawyers are probably sharpening their own swords about that dragon-rider thing as we speak.

This isn't necessarily a terrible thing. Fantasy is a very conservative and incredibly cannibalistic genre, where the same plots and the same species are torn from one book (usually Lord of the Rings) and reused time and time again. They couldn't be less original if they were all written from the same Build-Your-Own-Epic kit, some watered-down version of Tolkien's mythology which must never be departed from. (Diana Wynne Jones's brilliantly funny Tough Guide to Fantasyland provides a good example of what one should look like). But the readers like it that way.

Eragon, though, is touted as something original as if there weren't hundreds of thousands of fantasy books already in existence. From the Telegraph article, you'd get the impression nobody had thought to put elves, swords and a dragon in the same novel since Tolkien. Amazon are a bit more honest:

"the book shows the influence of Tolkien, of course, but also Terry Brooks, Anne McCaffrey, and perhaps even Wagner in its traditional quest structure and the generally agreed-upon nature of dwarves, elves, dragons, and heroic warfare with magic swords."

but even they talk as if the fantasy novel is a new creation.

"In spite of the engrossing action, this is not a book for the casual fantasy reader. There are 65 names of people, horses, and dragons to be remembered and lots of pseudo-Celtic places, magic words, and phrases in the Ancient Language as well as the speech of the dwarfs and the Urgalls. But the maps and glossaries help"

It's precisely the book for the casual fantasy reader. Fantasy readers (casual or otherwise) love pseudo-Celtic names and places, and will spend many happy hours writing down family trees and checking maps to make sure they're keeping up with things. I haven't read Eragon, but the joy of fantasy novels is that you don't need to - you know what's going to happen, who the main characters are going to be, what species will do what and exactly what that map's going to look like before you open the book. (Pointy snow-capped mountains will feature prominently.)

I don't intend to criticise this book itself, only the way it's being promoted. I spent a good portion of my teenage years reading every fantasy novel ever published, and I'm sure I would have loved this one if I hadn't grown jaded and cynical by now. I hope Christopher Paolini is successful, and a whole new generation of fantasy readers get starry-eyed about elves and swords and magical quests. My sole point of contention is the way it's being sold as something new and refreshing, rather than something which should be enjoyed for working within the strict confines of the unwritten rules of fantasy.

Actually, no - that's not the only one. I'm also a little annoyed because I wrote a fantasy novel of my own when I was 14, a year younger than Paolini was when he started Eragon. It was absolutely terrible, shamelessly derivative, and its plot makes me cringe when remember it. I think I realised at the time that it wasn't the masterpiece I was hoping for, and after a hundred handwritten pages I forgot about it. Who needs yet another rehashed epic-quest fantasy, right?

Well, everyone did, apparently. And now Paolini's beaten me to it. I was sitting on a fortune for all those years! I could have been rich! Damn it.

Monday, December 29, 2003

"Nasty little hobbitses!" (ROTK spoilers lie ahead)

I have waited thirteen years for this film. Ever since I was ten, and constructing an elaborate alternate universe where I was Elrond's adopted daughter (and thank Christ fanfiction.net didn't exist back then), I've known this trilogy was coming. Even when the only cinematic version around was that godawful animated thing that ends halfway through, I had faith.

Spoilers lie ahead. Those not familiar with the books will most likely not want to know, and those familiar with the books should see the film before hearing anyone describe how great Scene X was.

Thoughts on adverts before the film: Stop showing me cars. I don't want a car. I want a Mumak.

Thoughts on Battle of Pelennor Fields: Best battle scene in history of films, ever. Ever ever. I don't even like battle scenes, so I'm not best placed to judge, but this gets the crown.

Thoughts on Shelob: Felt strong urge to hunt down Peter Jackson and offer many weepy thanks for not making her like that awful cartoonish thing in It. (Remember the one? "Hey, we've spent hours being scared of the clown, and It turns out to be a goddamn spider?")

Thoughts on details like the bruises round Frodo's neck: They even care about nitpicky people like me! Give everyone involved an Oscar!

Thoughts on 99% of other people watching it: Best summed up by this cartoon.

Happy viewing, people.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Shopping. Bah.

I hate shopping. Really, I do. I can ruin other people's shopping excursions as quickly and efficiently as any high-pitched and angry toddler, and using much the same methods. I get bored to the point of delerium after ten minutes in a clothes shop, I have to be literally dragged into Woolworth's, and I will complain to a level unknown to all but Ceefax letters page contributors if anyone suggests a shopping trip might be 'fun'. But, kind family bought me book tokens for Christmas, and I'll gladly endure anything for a few hours in a bookshop. So, off we went to Manchester.

Manchester city centre used to be more interesting. There were little stalls and shops selling all kinds of fascinating books and CDs and so on, things that couldn't be found anywhere else. Even I could endure a shopping trip to Manchester back then.

On the 15th of June, 1996, the IRA changed things in the centre of Manchester with the second-largest bomb they'd ever used on the mainland. Every window for half a mile was shattered, every building was burnt and charred. Police managed to evacuate the area quite well, but several hundred people were injured. Nobody was killed.

When the area was rebuilt after the bomb, the shopkeepers and stallholders of the places that actually sold interesting things couldn't afford the rent any more. They left, and got replaced with acres and acres of Gap and Starbucks and Claire's Accessories. It's awful. Apparently a lot of people disagree, though, since Manchester yesterday was packed full of enthusiastic crowds heading for the sales. Manchester now has the Trafford Centre as well, an unreasonably large shopping centre full of even worse shops, so that presumably diverted some of the shoppers. Maybe not, though, since it's utterly terrible and if anything truly did deserve to get flattened by the IRA... yes, well.

Waterstones, the biggest bookshop anywhere in the region, was also crowded. I don't like this - crowds bother me, and I like to have bookshops as much to myself as possible. I'd prefer it if they kicked out everyone but me, in fact, but I don't think they'd be amenable to that suggestion. Still, it wasn't as bad as the street outside, and people in bookshops usually don't mind moving out of the way without needing to be elbowed. I also found a sofa to myself in the History room, and curled up with Douglas Adams's The Salmon of Doubt.

This is a far better way to buy books, if you have several hours to spare and you like bookshops. Instead of the panicky search of all the different rooms and floors for those books you know you want, but can't quite remember, you sit down with a book you know you'll like and wait for inspiration to come to you. After an hour or so, I left The Salmon of Doubt on top of a Noam Chomsky book (plenty in common) and headed off to gather things.

I find it easier to get books that I know I'll want first, before searching the shelves for things that look interesting. This is probably because I'm fanatically picky when it comes to new books (and new things in general). I do judge books by their cover, shamelessly and often. Anything with too many primary colours on the front is probably out; anything with too many pastel shades on the cover is definitely out. Anything with 'You'll laugh, you'll cry' below the title is really, really out. Anything with a title which isn't written in a sensible font doesn't usually register attention, let alone interest. And anything which is supposed to be targeted at people like me, twenty-three and female, would be better off pulped and used to resurface roads.

These are combined in the brain-achingly awful genre known as 'Chick Lit', or 'Women's Literature' if you're W. H. Smith's and hoping to appeal to a richer demographic. I have nothing in common with the idiot characters that populate these, and the storylines which are supposed to appeal to me. I could summarise them myself, but Serena Mackesy's The Temp has already beaten me to it. Here, the main character describes the "books which are supposed to be about me" brilliantly: "Giles or Luke? Penny couldn't decide. All she knew was that being a successful model/editor/advertising executive/film producer/private detective was not proving to be as fulfilling as she had expected," and "What do you do when you've got everything but all you want is love?" Perfect.

I got six wonderful-looking books that fall nicely outside this category. It's not easy to find good books, but it's made a lot easier when you can spend five hours in Waterstones looking.

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Heel!

*ring ring*

"Who'd phone up at this time on Christmas day? Just ignore it, let it go to the answerphone."

*click*

"See? They didn't even leave a message. It obviously can't be important."

*ring ring*

"Oh, for crying out - no, don't go and answer it, you'll only encourage them. We are in the middle of Christmas dinner, it can wait."

*click*

"Ha."

*ring ring*

"RIGHT! Turn the ringer volume off."

Done.

"Now, nobody leave this table until we've finished eating!"

Two hours later: "Where's the dog?"

Let nobody say my dog is stupid. Clearly taking advantage of everyone being busy with the usual paper hat arguments ("Oh, come on! You never wear one!" "And why abandon my principles now?"), she'd sneaked out of the cat door and away before anyone even noticed. By this time, it was dark outside. Searching the garden was pointless, because there's no way in hell she'd stay that close to home when the glorious scent of freedom was in the air, so me and a brother were dispatched to the streets to search for her.

He took Dog B, which is a mixed blessing. She is far too needy to ever run away, but the corollary of that is an inability to understand why any other dog would, so she's not much use at tracking. We split up, him heading down to the canal where she might have decided to take herself for a walk (the vet's advice to stay at home and rest has not gone down well), and me heading to the pub. She wasn't in either place. We grumbled.

An old couple walking their annoyingly obedient dog, a little Westie with cuteness radiating from its snowy-white coat, were heading back from the main road. Now, there's no way she'd head for the main road, but -

Wait. Yes, she would. She is a Cairn terrier who attacks bull mastiffs. She would do anything.

"Excuse me? Have you seen a little dog, about this high, look of pure chaotic malice in its eyes?"

"Well, now, it's funny you should ask that, dear. We just met a man coming the other way with a little dog on a lead, and he was asking if we knew who might own it..."

Brother races off in direction indicated. I stay around to talk to the nice people, and get a couple more details. "Did he say where he'd found her?"

"Oh, in his garden, I think." (We have a garden! What's wrong with our garden? Why is this dog never satisfied?) "He said she'd turned up about two hours ago."

Two hours?

"- and, well, she had a nametag but he's been trying to ring the phone number on it and nobody picks up."

Oops.

The dog was safely located with the nice man, who'd been walking her around hoping she'd head for home. (Ha.) She managed to redeem herself slightly by being very pleased to see me, but this was exposed for the cheap manipulation it was when she whined at her nice rescuer leaving her. He asked where she lived so he could return her himself if she did this again, which was nice - rope enough neighbours into this mindset, and we won't even have to go out looking for her.

Now, to find out how she's getting out of the garden...

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Rise of the Machines

One of my oldest friends, L., recently moved into a flat of her own for the first time. L.'s parents are very strange people, and therefore she had all furniture and possessions moved in the day after she was given the keys. Tonight, she phoned up to say that I could come to visit (could? The hell with your happy-new-home card, woman) the new place with V., another friend who I've known for the same length of time. (Twenty years, incidentally. I was at playschool with L., where she remembers me running up and down the length of the village hall claiming to be Superted, and at nursery school with V., where I remember her being trapped inside a toy car by a flock of geese.)

L.'s new flat is of the type I believe gets described as 'executive' by estate-agents - it has one bedroom, but very much an air of 'There may be only one of me, but I can afford to pay maintenance fees for the hallways!' about it. Me and V. made appropriate admiring sounds and tried not to tread too hard on the new carpets. L. still hadn't tuned her TV to the video and DVD player, so we made ourselves useful by seizing the remote controls and commencing Operation We-Don't-Need-No-Instruction-Manual.

Blank screen comes up. V. presses the 'On' button on the DVD remote. The blank screen is now a blank screen with 'AV' in the corner. "Isn't that supposed to tune it automatically?"

"I think so. Hmmm."

We turn the DVD player off. We turn it on again. No difference.

"L., how did you tune in the other channels?"

"I pressed that Menu button twice. But it doesn't work on AV."

So it didn't, despite hammering at the remote. Hmmm. "Right, I've exhausted the limits of my video-tuning skills," said V.

"You pressed a button. One button."

"Like I said..."

The mystery was solved when we noticed that the video player wasn't interacting with the TV in any way either, and L. confirmed that she'd put the TV in herself. One quick swap of a coaxial cable, and all was good.

And to think that the girl works with technology all day...

Exploits of the Dog, 2 - The Morning After

Just returned from taking the dog to the vet (the same dog that went to the pub several days ago). Last night, just before I went to bed, I noticed she was limping a bit; this afternoon, she was racing around in her usual hyperactive way, and I assumed she was better. On closer examination, it turned out that she was doing this on three legs. So, vet.

The vets here are very good about taking pets on short notice, which is just as well given how much we've spent in there over the past fifteen years. Apart from the standard innoculation against various nasty diseases and regular booster injections for dogs and cats, our pets have ended up at the vet for numerous varied and interesting conditions, all of which turned out quite expensive.

One of the cats gets into fights quite often, and has had to be bundled to the vets in a spitting, snarling, furry lump of rage when the bites looked serious - on one occasion, the cat across the road was also in the waiting room, with fighting injuries. Oops. It looked like ours won, though.

I used to breed gerbils (not entirely by accident, either), and they ended up at the vet for various things - pneumonia, cat-related injuries, excessive sneezing, and so on. Surprisingly, a lot of them survived, although that may not have had anything to do with the treatment.

My rabbit, Cloud, was the fiercest rodent in existence. Remember in Watership Down, where the mean general rabbit rules the totalitarian warren? Like that, only prettier. She once attacked a lawnmower. She attacked the vet on several occasions when having her claws clipped, and got a reputation for ferocity that was effective enough for the receptionist to fall silent when you phoned up to book an appointment. We used to let her run loose around the house, with the cat and the dog - they all got on quite well, and often you'd see two pets racing across the living room with another one (usually the rabbit) hot in pursuit.

One day, Rabbit Of Steel jumped in the fire while playing with the dog. She bounced straight out again, and sat under a stool trembling while the dog tried to lick her better. I screamed - I was about eight at the time - and ran crying to my parents that we had to get the rabbit to the vet right now or she was going to die. The vet looked at the rabbit, who was charred down one side and soaking wet down the other, and said "Okay, I give up. What happened?" (The rabbit was fine, although singed and with very curly whiskers on the burnt side.)

We got to the vets at about half-past six tonight, just as they were about to close. Holly, loveable little lunatic that she is, yapped at the receptionist and growled at the other dogs in the waiting room (who, incidentally, were all three times her size). The vet said she had a soft tissue sprain, and gave her an anti-inflammatory injection. Since she's quite an old dog, he asked how active she was usually, and I told him about the pub excursion and the bull mastiff she'd attacked in the summer. Holly wagged her tail and barked at the vet, who made a big fuss of her and happily pronounced her 'a nutter'.

She will be fine.


Monday, December 22, 2003

Environmentalists, hookers, and booze, oh my

For anyone curious about why the American 'terror alert' level has been raised to Orange, your questions have been answered! The terrorists are active and dangerous. In this case, the terrorists are Greenpeace.

The story goes like this: In April of 2002, Greenpeace activists staged a protest by a cargo ship they believed was carrying illegal timber. The protest consisted of usual Greenpeace stuff, including boarding the ship to hang a banner saying 'President Bush: Stop Illegal Logging'. Six protestors were charged for interfering with the coast guard (they had two smaller ships in front of the cargo vessel), and for boarding the ship. They pled 'no contest', were sentenced to time served, and fined.

Fifteen months later, the entire Greenpeace organisation was charged by the U.S. Attorney's office in Miami, under an obscure 1872 law about 'sailor-mongering'. Sailor-mongering, according to the Miami Herald, refers to the act of boarding a ship and using 'prostitutes and liquor' to lure away the crew. It seems like there wasn't an appropriate law on the books about 'being Greenpeace, and complaining about stuff'.

The protestors who boarded the ship have already been charged and sentenced. Greenpeace, dubious though their actions can sometimes be, have never to my knowledge used prostitutes or drink to lure away crew members (although maybe they should try it with the Miami coast guard next time). And yet, the entire organisation is now being tried for this.

In light of such activities, why is the current American administration so annoyed with France? Evidently, they have more in common than either would like to admit.

"They said there'd be snow at Christmas"

Take that, BBC Weather! The forecast last night was an ominous-looking black cloud with a blue raindrop for every day this week, but it's now snowing in a wonderfully festive way. We might even get a white Christmas at this rate. It won't officially be counted as one, because for that to happen snowflakes need to fall on the roof of the Met office in London - this is because Londoners think that the entire country is comprised of south-east England, with a few scenic places for postcards to be dispatched from somewhere in the distance. Snow never falls on the roof of the Met office on Christmas day, because a) London is several hundred miles south and b) London, being the demonic hell-city it is, is always hotter than the rest of the country due to all the lost souls shovelling coals into diabolic furnaces. Still, if we get snow here, I don't care what the poor rain-sodden South says.

The post title comes from one of the only Christmas songs I can listen to without grinding my teeth (I Believe in Father Christmas, by Greg Lake, the L of ELP). Yesterday, the Christmas number one single was announced - that Mad World song, which I also sort of like. It beat the favourite, which was by The Darkness, some screechy novelty-act abomination who have become inexplicably popular recently.

This is, apparently, big news. Mad World was not tipped to win, because it is 'not a Christmas song.' I seem to be alone in the country in thinking that Mad World won due to some really nifty marketing - make sure a quiet, minor-key song about alienation hits the radio stations just as everyone's getting fed up with the Christmas rush, and you can't lose.

Thank heavens it wasn't Cliff Richard.

Sunday, December 21, 2003

"You drive down to the lake and then you turn back around"

It's not true, what they say. "You can't go home again" might be accurate in more dynamic and interesting places, but when 'Home' is this town, you can go back as often as you like and have the strangely comforting knowledge that nothing will have changed. The same people write to the same local newspaper, ranting in the same reactionary/crotchety/lunatic way (Scaryduck's 'Lt Col Winston St John Cholmondeley-Cholmondeley Patel (Mrs)' lives just down the road from me, I think); the same dismal queues of teenagers outside the town's one nightclub, stylishly located above Ethel Austin, every Thursday; the same graffiti on the railway bridge.

That graffiti has only changed twice, to my knowledge: once when some glue-sniffing thirteen-year-old named 'Fume' (but probably 'Darren' to his mother) decided to scrawl his own efforts as high as he could reach, and once when someone after my own heart wrote "To all those who run from the law to express their art - please, keep running" in marker pen at eye-level.

The first time I came home from university at Christmas, while watching three of my friends play some lethal game of pool in the pub, I asked what was different. One of the pool-players looked up, considered, and said (in just the right accent) "Not much has changed up here on Walton's Mountain." He's right, too, although true English-hillbilly status should be awarded to the next town over - a friend worked in a primary school there where seventy children shared the same five or six last names, and I've heard rumours about tourists who are never seen again after innocently asking "Is that accent really English?"

I got back yesterday, after a long car journey in which I discovered another benefit of not feeling entirely well - when you're tired and your temperature is running above normal, books on French literary theory can suddenly become interesting. My dad, who drove up to get me, was equally tired after only getting three hours of sleep. He'd been up until late, searching for the dog with a high-powered torch previously only useful for annoying the neighbours. The dog had been put out at 11pm, and was nowhere to be seen in house or garden ten minutes later. This meant it was dark by the time we got back, and I got to see the town's Christmas lights - which are, once again, exactly the same miserly effort they've always been.

The dog was eventually found in the pub, being fed crisps and running around madly in circles. Nice to see someone round here still believes in the Christmas spirit.

Friday, December 19, 2003

We need a new Ice Age

The Evil Black Plague Flu Thing of Death staged a counter-attack yesterday. When sitting by an open window in a building with central heating dating back to the turn of the nineteenth century - in Scotland, in December - you don't expect to feel faint from the heat. You certainly don't expect to feel heat oozing out of the computer, from every gap in the keyboard, from the printer at the other side of the computer lab, and from the walls themselves.

Walking home was even worse. It reminded me of Florida, where it was still hot after dark, something perpetually puzzling to millions of other tourists from a land where dark = cold, wet, and probably full of angry young people drinking cheap cider. (Or that might just be my town.) The darkness was overwhelmingly, suffocatingly, hot enough to make me want to lie down and die. I decided I probably still had a temperature.

My room was no better, so I went for a shower instead. The shower is temperamental and usually doesn't want to find a happy medium between dribbling ice-water and scalding you with jets of steam, and for the first time ever this came in useful. I got dressed again and felt okay, for all of thirty seconds.

Clothes too hot. Change into pyjamas. Pyjamas too hot...

I wrapped myself in a towel, toga-style, and wondered whether the agency would mind me showing up for an interview tomorrow dressed as a Roman Senator. I looked in the mirror, to confirm I looked pretty stylish. The towel said "Chill Out," in large turquoise italics.

Yes. Indeed.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

"FWD: fwd: fwd: fwd: fwd: Stop clogging up my inbox, damn it!"

The Evil Black Plague Flu Thing of Death has abated. Hopefully. It wasn't too unpleasant an illness - it gave me an incredibly high temperature, so I spent most of the time feeling deleriously happy (in the most literal sense of the word), if not entirely connected to reality.

Today, I have been attempting to clear all the junk out of my webmail address, since my inbox keeps reaching its limit and bouncing things. Then I get angry e-mails from people saying "Hey! Your e-mail bounced my 450kb forward about Twu Fwiendship and Wuv," and then those e-mails bounce, and then people get annoyed at me. I like hoarding things, and I have e-mails in this account dating back to 1998. So far, the only ones I've found that were actually worth saving are:

1) This one:

Sender: DarkProfits.com
Subject: Your credit card has been charged for $234.65
Message:

We have just charged your credit card for money laundry service in amount of $234.65 (because you are either child pornography webmaster or deal with dirty money, which require us to layndry them and then send to your checking account).
If you feel this transaction was made by our mistake, please press "No".
If you confirm this transaction, please press"Yes" and fill in the form below.

[boxes for credit card number and expiry date]


How could I throw that away? It reminds me to count my blessings every time I grumble about the bad quality of spam that I get. (If I get a Nigerian e-mail scam, it had better come from Nigeria, and not be some cheap knock-off version from the Ivory Coast! Can you hear me, scammers?)

2) E-mail from Childhood Friend, dated 2000, containing the entire text of an argument we'd been having via e-mail for the past week. She didn't like her degree course, and wanted to switch to something else. She thought that taking a year out and working in a badly-paid job for a car finance company for a year would help motivate her to get back to university. I disagreed, and said she'd be working in that job for years and years and never go back to uni.

It's nice to be able to say 'I told you so!', even if it is only to a three-year-old e-mail.

3) E-mail from same friend, dated 1999, mentioning rumour that was circulating about me back at home. According to the bizarre little Deliverance-country grapevine we have, I was phoning up my parents every night in tears begging them to take me away from university. I hated it, and wanted to come home, and promised my parents a thousand times not to tell anyone. Of course, Childhood Friend heard this rumour eighteenth-hand and was herself made to promise Not To Tell Anyone. I'm glad to see that we still haven't lost that mindset: if someone tells you not to tell anyone, you're perfectly justified in passing along the rumour so long as you add the 'And don't tell anyone!' part to whoever you tell.

The rumour wasn't true, but did result in people being really sympathetic and buying me lots of drinks when I went home that Christmas, which was nice. The e-mail came in useful to show people when the exact same rumour happened at the exact same time the next year, and I've grown sort of attached to it.

Friday, December 12, 2003

*croaks*

Losing voice. Grr.

The care agency woman said she'd get back to me this week. By today, I was getting pretty annoyed with it, until I noticed the nice big envelope with my name on the front waiting for me downstairs...

It contains application forms which need to be completed 'prior to interview'. Interview! I got an interview! Something tells me I'm going to need at least three days to fill out all these hideously complicated forms, but never mind. I got an interview. I can wow them with my personality, and they won't care. (Or not - since I'm losing my voice, I might have to do the interview in highly elaborate sign language.)

There's a Criminal Convictions declaration, which I have to fill out as well as going through a Criminal Records Check. I have to pay £13.60 for the records check. I have to pay for it? They'd better give me the job after that. Bastards.

There's a checklist of things I'll need to bring with me to interview. This includes, but is not limited to, my passport, my birth certificate, my bank details (so they can hit me up for more cash for record checks, presumably), my Moving and Handling certificate (I don't have one, but I didn't sit through a boring and pointless M&H session for nothing, so they can phone up my last boss and ask her about it), a list of everywhere I've lived for the last ten years, and Hepatitis B documentation. I don't have Hep B documentation, but what the hell, it's only one injection...

No, bugger, it's not. It's that three-injections-over-three-months one, isn't it? Oh hell.

Also, I need two passport photographs. Everything I apply for needs 'two passport photographs'. At the start of every university year, I need about eight of them altogether. Photo booths cost an annoyingly large amount, and I always come out looking like a vampire (at best). What the hell do they need more photographs for now? Gah.

On the bright side, I've decided that if they need so much information it's obviously some kind of undercover secret service job. And that's got to pay quite well, right?

There's a page-long Health Assessment Check-Box Thing. I think I can tick the 'No' box for most of the questions ('Have you ever had tuberculosis?'), but there's a couple of sticky ones. "Have you been seen or examined by a doctor in the last six months?" Um, possibly, I really don't remember. "Do you have any eyesight problems not corrected by glasses?" Well, yes, I do, but whenever I actually need to explain it, it causes some kind of mental block in the person I'm telling, so I'll need to think up some simple and plausible way to explain it.

There's a special segment of the health assessment for night work. "Do you have any condition which may be affected by your participation in night work?" Like what, being overly scared of the dark? Being a reverse vampire?

The interview is next Friday at 11:30am. Wish me luck.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Ask not what you can do for your insomnia...

...ask what your insomnia can do for you.*

Since I can't get to sleep until the early hours of the morning anyway, I decided to do something useful with the time instead of stay up playing Black & White and hissing at my CD drive to stop being so noisy. (It's not noisy with any other CD, but it really hates that one.) So, in a period of strange productivity, I stayed up till 3am this morning writing notes on psychic investigation and ghost narratives in the late 19th century. And anyone who thinks this stuff is far too interesting to pass for 'work' can do all my reading on Structuralism for me. Heh.

I like working at night - it's quiet, and there's nothing on TV that could distract me. I like the feeling of being awake when everyone is asleep except me and a very noisy owl, too. And waking up to a nice stack of completed work (adorned with shiny stars, which do too have a useful academic purpose) is pleasing.

On the other hand, though, it does make it a little tricky to actually get anything done in the morning. Oh, well.

(* I'm aware the Kennedy quote goes the other way round. I'm also aware that I probably didn't need to explain that, as you're all clever people, but my A-level Chemistry teacher once yelled it so loudly that I need to make the point, for fear that he'll drop out of nowhere and start ranting about how we're all Thatcher's children again.)

Just what he's always wanted

Tony Blair wants some "improving literature" for Christmas. BBC News Online readers have come up with some suggestions.

Among the best:

"Mutiny on the Bounty. What happens when you fail to listen to the rebels."

"Labour Party Manifesto, 1997."

"The Prince by Nikolai Machiavelli. Then again, I'm sure he already he owns a copy."

"My bank book. It will show him just how much I owe after being through university. I am sure it will make interesting reading." (And mine, sister.)

"Cervantes's "Don Quixote". In this epic tale of misguided adventures and over-inflated egos in the time of chivalry, the deranged Don Quixote's arrogance is matched only by the ignorance of his sycophantic side-kick - Sancho Panza. A cautionary tale for their modern day equivalents."

Saturday, December 06, 2003

As if the singing wasn't bad enough

There were signs around the building I live in yesterday, asking everyone to turn up to a meeting tonight. The signs mentioned something about 'problem with mail delivery,' but were a bit skimpy on the lurid details, so I had to turn up if only to find out what was happening.

I got there five minutes late, to find the lounge full of angry students. Hmmmm. Evidently, the problems go beyond people forgetting the postcode.

They do indeed. It turns out that letters have been going missing for a few months. Some people had been told there was a letter for them on the table by the door where all the post gets put, and got there themselves to find no letter. While that can be put down to misreading the name on the front a couple of times, it has apparently been happening quite a bit. Also, some of the missing letters have been turning up back on the table, opened but with all their contents inside. Other letters haven't.

A short while ago, this happened to someone who was expecting a new credit card to be sent out. Someone mentioned they'd seen a letter for him that looked like it was from the bank that morning - he went down to check the post, saw no letter, and thought no more of it. Until yesterday, when the bank sent him a statement saying he now owed £350 on the credit card he'd never even seen.

Well, damn it. There's forty-five of us living in the same building, and by this point most of us know each other at least on nodding terms. We get on okay. We share complaints about the useless university cleaners. Just a couple of weeks ago I was talking to some other residents about why the doors are self-locking, and we all agreed that we couldn't imagine anyone stealing anything from our rooms. And now this. Huh.

The university have been notified, and have suggested a couple of things. The first one was individual boxes for post, which we'd all get keys to. This one got shot down by the first person to ask "And who'd sort out the post?" - the postman won't do it, the cleaners refuse to do it on the grounds that they're not paid to sort out letters (cue much grumbling about how they're not doing any of the stuff they are paid to do either), and the university won't spring for a specially-paid post sorter.

The second suggestion was getting all post sent to the university's mail room, which we'd go to every day to check if there was anything for us and show ID before being allowed to collect it. This would stop the thief, but get really inconvenient for everyone else.

We came up with our own suggestion - the university gives us a big box which all the post goes into, and half a dozen of us get keys to it. Every evening, the box gets opened with two or three of the key-holders present, and the post gets handed out to the people it belongs to. I volunteered to be one of the people with keys, because I'd been loudly indignant earlier in the meeting about the whole situation, and one of the other volunteers pointed out that "we should have a girl there as well." ("Why, in case it's a male conspiracy to steal everyone's letters?" "No - so we can blame you if this doesn't work." "Fair enough.")

We aren't entirely sure if the university will go with this suggestion yet, but there's easily enough of us to form an angry mob if they refuse to spring for a box and a padlock.

And thieving bastard, if you're reading this - by all means, if you want to steal people's letters from the bank, steal mine and pay off my overdraft. Please.

A spoonful of saccharine

Whatever they put in diet Coke, I shouldn't be allowed near. Sugar doesn't bother me, even alcohol doesn't bother me (up to a point), but that fake sweetener stuff is nasty. Spent an hour giggling at Baby's Named a Bad, Bad Thing, then an hour after that just giggling, before I realised I'd had one can of diet Coke plus one small bottle of diet Coke with lemon in the same day. Which isn't a good idea. Of course, it had to wear off eventually, so I thought I'd be okay.

As with so many other situations, it ended with me dancing round my room to Bonnie Tyler at 2am after the second can kicked in. No more diet Coke, ever.

Apart from that, though, it was quite a productive day, and I even managed to get some work done. This was aided greatly by my new stickers. They're supposed to be for dividing up my notes into easy-to-see categories, but the shop didn't have any normal stickers, so I have stars instead. I get to stick stars on my own work! Gold and silver stars! As many as I want! I'm so professional.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

Employment looms!

Possibly.

The job market here, if you're a student looking for part-time work, is bad. It's especially bad if you're picky, and sort potential jobs in how desperate you'd have to be before you applied for them. Currently, I'm at the stage where I'll reconsider waitressing again, but one overdraft limit away from applying for any shelf-stacker job which describes itself as 'Team Member.'

There was a notice up in the university's get-a-job-you-lazy-bastards centre a couple of weeks ago, for a 'casual carer.' (Looking after old people in an offhand and apathetic manner, I assume.) I asked about it, said I had experience with care work (they were completely amazed at this, and I'm not sure why - is it such an un-studenty job? Or do I just not look very caring?), got a contact e-mail address, and sent off my CV with a covering note thingy.

Two weeks later, I still hadn't heard back, so I decided that they'd thrown out my application because I didn't have a car. (It's home care work, mainly, so cars are pretty handy.) I considered phoning up to ask anyway, but put it off until today, because there's really no point other than to pester them for not giving me a proper answer. Which is a valuable thing to spend time on, of course, especially when you're unemployed, but can be sort of depressing.

This afternoon, I checked my e-mail and saw a reply from the woman at the care agency! Apologising for not getting back to me sooner because she'd been away, saying she'd passed my CV along to her manager, and wanting a contact number to call me! Okay, so she didn't answer any of the questions I asked in my first e-mail, and the contact number is on the CV, but who cares? She replied.

It's care work, and care work is a horrible thankless low-paid job where ninety-year-olds with Alzheimer's beat you up while your boss is asking you if you can work a night shift with no notice whatsoever, but it's work. And, despite all that, it's work I actually like.

I am a happy little Sept today.



Wednesday, December 03, 2003

The Films We Never Saw

#11273 - Don't Look Now, as told by the goblin creature thing.
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Dear Mother,

Hope all is well at home and Auntie Ethel returned the silverware. I've decided to extend my trip around Europe for a bit longer, so I'll probably not be home until Mavis's birthday at the earliest. There's this hotel in Venice offering cheap off-season rates for Evil Wrinkled Folklore Demon Creatures, so no need to worry about money! Should be a nice, relaxing holiday. My regards to Dad and the goldfish,

Your loving son daughter goblin,

Bernard.

ps - Bought a brand new red coat yesterday. It itches a bit around the collar, but I look damn fine in it! - B.

-----

Dear Mother,

Venice is actually quite chilly. Don't worry, I packed enough thick socks, but I'm glad I've got my new coat! I'm still jetlagged, so I don't get to see much of the city during the day (just as well, really - everyone says it's just overrun with noisy tourists anyway). I've been taking a few walks at night along the canals, though. Lovely and relaxing, but I think I'll be changing my route after tonight - this creepy man kept staring at me, everywhere I went! Don't know what he wanted, but managed to head off down a narrow street before he caught up. This place is just overrun with crime. I'm glad I'm carrying travellers' cheques instead of cash.

Sorry to hear about the goldfish. Dad was always a bad one for snacking between meals, wasn't he? I hope they're not too expensive to replace!

Yours,

Bernard.

------

Dear Mother,

I don't think I'll be staying in Venice much longer. It's lovely, but I've seen most of the places I want to see, and some of the locals are scaring me a bit. Remember that man I told you was staring at me? Well, I saw him again today, and yesterday! Mostly just glimpses through a crowd, but I'm worried he might be following me. Please, don't worry - for all I know, he's trying to sell me some sort of timeshare thing - but I think I'll just be keeping to myself for a while. My hotel room's paid for till the end of the month, though, so I'll be staying till then.

You'd love this city, by the way. I saw a gargoyle yesterday that looked exactly like Auntie Ethel! Maybe she wasn't lying about that modelling career after all.

Yours,

Bernard.

--------

Dear Mother,

Honestly, don't worry! Yes, I am worried about the man that I keep seeing, but I'm sure it's just paranoia. I saw him again the other day, fixing up a cathedral or something, and he didn't even notice me! Also, from what I overheard, he's not even a local himself - he's just here on some kind of work contract - so, there's nothing to worry about. Unless he just used that as an excuse to follow me over here, of course. Oh, hell, there I go again. Anyway, I'll be leaving in a few weeks, so it doesn't matter.

Your rather panicked child,

Bernard.

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Dear Mother,

Okay, now I'm getting worried. Out for my nightly walk yesterday, guess who I saw? Yes! Him again! Walking round the city at night, as if he's looking for something! I mean, what kind of cathedral needs fixing up after dark? God knows what he's up to. I legged it sharpish.

In response to your suggestion, I've bought myself a knife. Here's hoping I'll never have to use it, but I've been carrying it with me anyway. Better safe than sorry, as you said about the new steel-reinforced goldfish tank!

Has Auntie Ethel got the postcards yet?

Bernard.

---------

Dear Mother,

Cripes, I don't even know where to start! I got caught out late the other night, and ended up walking home after dark. Yes, I know what you said about it, but the taxi-boats here are just extortionately priced, and it wasn't too far to go, so I thought, what the hell? He won't be round here, right?

Well, he was. He saw me before I noticed him, and the next thing I knew, he was running straight for me! I'd planned to stand perfectly still and threaten him with the police if he ever did that, but when push came to shove, I just ran for it. He's about twice my height, though, and I've never been fit since that hedgehog incident. So, I thought I'd made it to safety, and I was standing by this canal catching my breath, when I heard his footsteps behind me - and I was cornered! I swear, it was terrifying. I didn't know what to do. He babbled something or other - maybe it was time-share, I wasn't even paying attention! - and I just snapped.

I started grinning. It was just hysteria, I think, but I couldn't stop myself, and I was grinning and giggling and he still didn't back off. I had my knife in my pocket, and I just lashed out.

Now, I'm not proud of myself for it, but I honestly think my safety was in danger. I got him a good one in the neck, and he fell to his knees, and I ran! Straight to the night ferry, across to the mainland, and didn't stop till I'd got to the nearest airport. I got on the first flight available, so I'm writing this from Buenos Aires.

If anyone calls round for me and says they're from Interpol, eat this letter!

Your loving child,

Bernard.

PS - Maybe he just wanted my coat? I feel so guilty - I should have just handed it over, and you're not supposed to fight muggers back! Hell.

PPS - I didn't mean him to die, though, honestly I didn't. Mugger, stalker, whatever, he didn't deserve that. I just, you know, lashed out.

PPPS - Unless he really was selling timeshare.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Grfflehejkfllll

Nearly ruined keyboard, spent half hour removing all keys and pouring water out onto floor, keyboard now fine, must congratulate Apple on semi-aquatic hardware and various uses of such.

Went to gig, stood next to speaker, ears now in worse state than keyboard this time yesterday but was worth it. Support band not bad either but bass player should spend more time checking strings, less time learning fine art of Pratting About In Idiotic Poses With Guitar.

Woken at 3am by early drunk carol singers ringing doorbell. Singing went (swear on heart, this is accurate, could not make this stuff up if tried): "Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells... er..."

Bought Wotsits.

Will return with all above reworded in devastatingly witty and incisive prose tomorrow. Night-night.