How to understand this blog

Thursday, December 30, 2010


I finally went to see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader the other day. My expectations were low, having seen the trailer and dreading what they were going to do to the book, and they were basically fulfilled. I wasn't disappointed but my expectations were not exceeded by much.

They didn't hack the plot to pieces quite as much as I thought they would. Except they just couldn't resist Hollwoodifying the story. It apparently needed a more compelling overarching storyline than a simple quest. So they invented an evil green mist. Very cinematic. And apparently Every Single Character needed a personal journey, or some personal demon to overcome. Painful! Not to mention cheesy. And waaaaay too busy. The movie just did not flow well, what with all these subplots.

Almost everyone knows the partially allegorical nature of the Narnia Chronicles - and I was surprised to see they had left some things in that were almost explicit in their allegorical sense. But these things often betrayed the signs of fiddling, of the fiddling of people who don't understand religion but think they can speak for the religious. I was particularly annoyed by the conversation between Lucy and an entirely superfluous character, a little girl whose mother has been taken by the green mist: [paraphrase approaching]
"How do I know I will ever see my mother again?"
"You just need to have faith."
"But Aslan didn't stop her being taken."
"Just have faith. I promise we'll find her."
Again, painful! Faith in what, precisely? That life on earth is fair? That Aslan prevents anything difficult ever happening? Argh! It's such a distortion of the concept of faith!! But it's a nice cliché that Hollywood likes and at the sound of which C. S. Lewis would have torn out his hair in frustration.

I did think, however, that it wasn't entirely bad. Fiddling with the plot produced some fairly okay results in some areas - for instance, extending the appearance of the dragon was fun. I think that Ben Barnes is very pleasant to look at. Some of the cinematography was pretty cool. And I also think that the kid who plays Eustace Scrubb is very promising. My hopes for The Silver Chair have not been left shattered.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

the Christmas story

This is cute, so for your viewing interest:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

DIY Christmas

Greetings! This year, I am doing Christmas presents cheaply. Hence, the appearance of Christmas crafts in my life. This is how to make the little bags into which I am going to put yummy things, and which I am going to give to my relatives as presents. They're very easy, very cheap, and actually pretty quick too!

I even have visual aids, because it's very simple to do but complicated to explain. Away we go!

You will need 2 rectangles of different coloured felt. Cut each corner to round it out, like so:

Then each piece needs a 14-cm slit along the middle. Do this by folding in half and cutting 7cm:

And now, follow the instructions pictured below:

Once you have folded your bag, there is nothing you need to do to it to make it stay together - one of the things I love about this little bag!

Finally, make some little straps for it out of pieces of ribbon about 7cm long. I like to sew them on with cotton that matches the colour of the felt, but the guide I used last time said to glue them on. I think this probably wouldn't last very long so I recommend sewing! But whatever works for you.

{Later addition: I decided to sew up the open edges just a little bit so the bags can hold more. It depends what you want to use them for.}

Here are some of the other bags I made, all in the space of a few hours. Quick and easy!
Last time I made these, I stuck little paper snowflakes on as gift tags, and filled the bags with wrapped sweets. I may mix it up a little this time ... who knows? I've got about five days to decide!

I LOVE THE ONSET OF CHRISTMAS. Am in a happy glow right now.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

thank you, russian fudge

I had a meeting with one of my supervisors yesterday, during which I had a lightning bolt of knowledge, as it were. A thunderclap. It said:

I am really, really sick of this.

I went downstairs to my office space, and sat staring blindly at my computer screen while rebellious thoughts of dropping out of university ran through my head. Dropping out, and going to live on a Fijian beach, gathering shells for a living. Or starting my own ashram in the Indian hills. Or something like that.

Then I suddenly remembered that I was going to two different dessert parties that evening and still hadn't got anything to take with me. Oh joy!! I rushed out, went home, and procrastibaked.

Russian fudge recipe

3 cups sugar
Half cup milk
3/4 cup sweetened condensed milk
125 grams butter (about 4oz I think)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon golden syrup (= corn syrup)

Before you start, get a tin to pour the fudge into, and line it with baking paper. Later you will need to put the saucepan in a sink of cold water, to beat the fudge, so get the sink ready, with about a 3 or 4 cm water level. I find it works best, as well, if I have all the ingredients ready to go, measured out and with spoons ready, so that you can get them into the saucepan quickly.

Place the sugar and milk in a saucepan and bring to the boil.
Add the condensed milk, butter, salt and golden syrup. Boil, stirring often. Once the mixture starts to go a little darker, stick in a thermometer,* and keep stirring.
When the fudge has reached the correct temperature, remove from the heat and place in the sink of cold water. Beat for about 3 minutes with a wooden spoon. It's really important to beat quite vigorously until the fudge really starts resisting!! Then pour into the tin.
When cool, mark into squares. When completely set, break the squares apart.

* If you have a thermometer: I usually heat until the "soft ball" stage, which is about 116*C/240*F.
If you don't have a thermometer: Test the fudge by dropping a small amount into a quarter cup of cold water. If it forms a soft ball when pressed between your fingers, the fudge is ready. (I find this a pretty confusing way to figure it out, and so I would really recommend getting a thermometer!)


Now, I feel not exactly wonderful about the amount of work I still have to do on my thesis. I do feel resigned to my fate, however, and at least a tiny bit determined to finish. At the very least, I still have a small supply of sugary fudgey goodness. Thank you, procrastibaking, for restoring equilibrium and sanity!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

listening to our parents

When I started university, determined to do a BA in English and History, I think my parents were a little frightened for me. It's not like this was a great surprise - after all, I had rejected the sciences early on, and been forced kicking and screaming into taking Calculus in my last year at school. My mother sat me down and made me list the sensible careers a BA could bring me. I rolled my eyes but played along, listing the obvious choices - Teacher, Journalist, etc. - none of which I wanted to be but which I knew would pass the Parent Test. That was enough for my mother. She was suspicious, but I think she was relieved that at least I wasn't waltzing off to teach English in China or whatever it was I had decided would be a great idea if I didn't go to uni.

Six years later, I am soon to finish my MA in History. I still don't have a clue what I want to be, but I know that I made the right decision when I was 18. It would be a heck of a lot more comfortable to come out of uni knowing exactly what career my degree would bring me - life in a law firm, an engineering company, a business - but it would be a heck of a lot more boring for someone like me and, more importantly, it would be a perversion of who I am and the talents I have. I completely understand that for many people a career is just something that supports their family, etc. I don't want to make that seem negative. And I don't think it's all about personal fulfilment. However, I do think that if you've been given a talent/skill/gift, and can develop it, you should. (Obviously, to a point.) It will make you better at the "sensible" jobs, it will show you that you can actually do anything that you really want to do. (Obviously, within reason.)

My dad is wonderful, and very supportive, even though I'm sure he disapproves of the lack of clear direction for me right now. He's always interested in what I'm doing, and he recognises the need for the study of history, and he's very proud of me whenever I succeed in some way, etc. etc. He's been very good about my choices in study, even if he's always been a fan of the Sensible, Professional Career Path. I'm pretty sure, though, that he wishes it was someone else's daughter doing it. Not in a bad way. But doesn't every parent want security and safety for their children?

Parents can give great advice. But it will usually be conservative. They don't actually "just want us to be happy", they want us to be happy as a doctor, lawyer, engineer or teacher. And I have to say that I am actually quite glad I didn't listen to my parents when I was 18, even though the future ahead of me is so open right now. It's a little scary. But I can't wait to see what is coming.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Last year, around this time, I wrote a blog post about the wonderful year I had just had. And 2009, for me, was wonderful. This year... not so much. I thought for a moment about writing all the things that annoyed me about 2010, and then decided that would be very painful for you to read. So here is my list of good things about 2010 that I decided it would do me good to remember. The funny thing is ... there turned out to be more of them than I thought. Huh. That taught me a lesson.

1. I started the year with a lovely, although brief, time with the family. All of my siblings were in Christchurch at some point over the summer, and there was even one day when we were all in town at the same time. This is rare, and precious!

2. I have good friends, and I have made new ones this year. Some of them got married, or engaged. One of my best friends returned last week after fifteen months abroad. The last time I saw her was in Poland. It's really good to have her back.

3. Finally, after several years of wanting to do this, I ran a singalong Sound of Music! I put a ridiculous amount of work into it because I was so ridiculously excited, and it was worth every hour spent painting recognisable scenes from the movie. A bunch of people came who were as ridiculously excited as we were, and a good time was had by all.

4. Slowly, I've been coming to terms with my thesis. I have felt, at times during this year, painfully stupid. I've felt like I've been losing control of it, that I'll never get it figured out, let alone finished. It's not finished yet. But that's getting closer. And I'm figuring it out. I have much more of a handle on the things I am arguing and writing about.
Perhaps, pain has been gain. Perhaps I can do anything?

5. Four issues of Halfway Down the Stairs in 2010, marking five years of publication. I wasn't sure if we were going to make it on the last two without our web design expert, who had to leave our editing team - but I think we have made it! I'm loving the way the 'zine is going. I'm very proud of it.

6. 2010 was the year of Tuesdays-with-my-nieces, R. and M. I had to have part-time work this year, and I was so lucky to (a) devote one solid, single day to it instead of having to break up several days of the week, like most students, and (b) "work" a job that involved spending time with two of my favourite people. I've enjoyed Tuesdays so much. It's involved a kind of creativity that is so different to thesis-writing but has rejuvenated me for the days spent in the office thinking and reading and writing.

7. I have a new nephew, who is two weeks old. He is healthy and charming and calm, and he is a beautiful addition to the family. I can't wait to see some more of him post-Christmas!

8. I moved into a new flat this year, a flat which is lovely and which is owned by lovely landlords. That in itself was a huge improvement on 2009.

9. Said flat has not always been the warmest place to live, especially for people who can't afford much heating, which has given me a new appreciation of heat! Therefore, the onset of summer is more enjoyable than it has ever been before!

10. 2010 has been a year of beaching it up. My flatmates and I discovered at the beginning of the year that we all love swimming at the beach, love it so much that we discover our inner children. Then, later this year, I discovered the joys of bonfires on the beach and fire juggling. Below is a photo of me! Me! Spinning things around in my hands that have fire on the end of them!

11. I'm a social person, in some ways, but I can be quite shy and I freak out a little (or sometimes a lot) about certain types of social things. I don't like the thought of big parties, I don't like the thought of things where I may be expected to dance in front of people! It usually means I make excuses and get out of going to things. This year I have made much more of an effort to go to things. It means I've had more moments of anxiety than usual. It also means that I've usually ended up having more fun, getting to know people better, trying things and finding out they're not that bad.
I've hardly cured my tendency to stress out. But I've become more determined to do things despite it.
12. I got to visit the three other major cities of New Zealand - one entirely paid for by other people, one on air points, and the other for very very cheap. I had a great time in each one, and one in particular (Wellington) completely exceeded my expectations.
13. I also went away briefly, to Duvauchelles with some friends for a nice weekend, and on the Tranzalpine train across the Southern Alps. Rather beautiful and relaxing.

14. Figuring out the concept of assertion. Ask and you will be given, seek and you will find, etc. I asked some publishing companies and they have given me free books to review. Hooray! This has been part of how I started my new blog.

15. I went to the U2 concert on November 25! It was unbelievably cool.

16. So many things to be thankful for, and still this year has been a hard one. The West Coast mining tragedy and the Christchurch earthquake were the big, obvious things. The earthquakes are still coming every day. It's not that pleasant. Surely I should have got used to them? Instead I'm just getting worse.

In a less dramatic way, this year has been slightly difficult for me when it comes to worry. I don't know what I'm going to do when I finish my thesis, I haven't had much money and I have absolutely no savings, we've had to find flatmates suddenly with very little notice and are still at this moment hoping to find a flatmate within the next couple of weeks, and there have been a few personal things that have just been so very unsettling.

In a peculiar way, though, I'm glad this year has been tough. I have had to lean on God so much more. He has provided for me in completely unexpected ways and I have had to learn to trust him in a way that I never had to when everything was settled and safe. It would be nice if I could just learn a lesson and stop worrying. I know that's not going to happen. But I'm very grateful to him that the lesson has begun.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Friday in Auckland

On my last day in Auckland we drove out to Mission Bay. (We = me + sister + her husband & 2 girls + brother-in-law + his elder son. Younger son was four days old - and extremely cute - and at home with mum.)

Mission Bay is an idyllic little slice of beachiness, with a dominant view of the peak of Rangitoto Island, one of the distinctive sights of Auckland. It has become, typically, one of the most expensive places in Auckland to live, but luckily it seems that this hasn't stopped anyone coming out to the beach from other areas. Pohutukawa trees line the beach, and they're just starting to bloom with the beautiful red flowers that have earned them the name 'New Zealand's Christmas tree'.

Some paddling, a picnic lunch, some shell-collecting, some ice creams later, and we headed off. It was a lovely morning-and-early-afternoon, but it really only awakened my appetite for the northern beaches of New Zealand. A little hint of the more tropical side of my country, which I haven't really experienced before.

And then it was back to Christchurch!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

it isn't up and isn't down

Silence - the December issue of Halfway Down the Stairs - has arrived!

Check it out. There's some beautiful writing as always. Some really wonderful poetry, like Isi Unikowski's '5am' and Gail Wawrzyniak's 'Still Life Discussions' - and actually I'm going to stop there because I like so much of it this time around that it seems silly to basically list the whole poetry section. I also love the nonfiction piece 'Cold, Black, Leaves, Cloud, Lightning' by one of our editors, Carrie Bachler.

Something new that we did this time around is a kind of 'Staff Favourites' page, in which a few of us who have been around for a while picked out our absolute favourites from the five years in which Halfway Down the Stairs has been published. Check this out also. Money back guarantee if you don't like them!

'Halfway Down the Stairs', by A. A. Milne, was also one of my favourite childhood poems. You can read it here. I remember thinking it was one of the most profound things I'd ever read (although of course I did not know the word 'profound' at that stage in my life!).


So I will try to be brief. Ish.

Unfortunately that means this blog post will probably be full of adjectives like AMAZING! INCREDIBLE! AWESOME! instead of an attempt to explain why the things in question were AMAZING! INCREDIBLE! AWESOME! That's okay. Bear with me.

I went to the U2 concert on November 25 in Auckland, and was completely blown away.

Blown away, because I went to the concert almost exactly four years before in the same place, and thought I knew exactly what I was getting. I didn't.

Blown away, because I had thought I was getting over my silly adolescent U2 phase, although I still enjoyed their music. I didn't spend the weeks leading up to the concert psyching myself up or obsessing over what songs they may or may not play. I hardly got excited until the very evening of the concert. And then when the first chords played, this excitement came throbbing back into my veins all of a sudden, and I realised - I really love their music. I jumped up and down, I cheered and whistled, I was as happy clappy as the best of them.

The concert didn't necessarily start out so well. By the time you actually get there, after a tortuous public transport trip (I do not know how Auckland is going to cope when the rugby world cup hits them next year), you hear Jay Z, the support artist, playing ridiculously loudly and groan a little. Then you find out the stands your seats are in are temporary stands, and basically look like a bunch of scaffolding. Whenever people walk particularly loudly, they shake. Whenever people start stomping their feet during a Mexican wave, you have a minor panic attack as the stands tremble. "From Christchurch?" someone next to you sympathetically asks. "Yup," you reply. "I can't look at any type of building anymore without assessing them mentally for earthquake safety."

But once U2 starts playing... this all fades.

The show was incredible. The stage, lights, video, everything... mind-blowing.

The day before the concert, there was another explosion in the Pike River mine. The country was sorrowfully told that there was no chance the 29 miners trapped inside could still be alive. New Zealand is really feeling this one. We're a small country, this kind of stuff doesn't happen that often. We think we're in the first world, that we're invincible, that we can control everything - and then this happens.

Bono spoke. What he said was heartfelt, helpful and understanding. And then U2 played "One Tree Hill", which was written for their Kiwi friend Greg Carroll who died in Auckland, and now was dedicated to the 29 fallen. It was absolutely beautiful, and uplifting, and a fitting tribute to the dead. You can see some of it on this video.

The rest of the concert was amazing too. One of the things I really appreciated about not having been too excited beforehand is that I didn't try and figure out everything that would happen. So when songs came, they were a complete surprise, and I felt like I could really genuinely enjoy the onslaught of songs like Where The Streets Have No Name, part of the excitement of which is the sudden realisation that they are about to play it. It started with a verse of Amazing Grace before the opening chords, which have always been the most electrifying opening to a song that I've ever heard.

Here is my video of the beginning. Unfortunately I missed the verse of Amazing Grace:

The setlist as a whole to the concert can be found here, but I think those two songs were possibly my favourites, although I really did love everything they did. With Or Without You, a song which I have only just begun to appreciate, was a close runner-up to the other two songs, although being a single person I began to feel a little insecure at the number of couples cuddling up around me!

The concert finished with Moment of Surrender from their latest album, and with the crowd holding up their cellphones as candles. Pretttty.

And then we finished on an absolute high and left the stadium, to fight with maybe 60,000 other people to catch the trains out of Penrose Station. (Seriously, Auckland public transport people. How are you going to cope with a world cup if you think it's efficient to try and get that many people across a tiny railway bridge that fits maybe three-abreast? People will be crushed!) Oh well. That unpleasant experience is over now, but the memory of the concert remains!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wednesday in Auckland: my day in bullet points

- The day dawned bright and early, and I got up at 5:30 to catch a 6:40 flight out of Christchurch. I am always over-confident about my own ability to deal with sleep deprivation when I book flights. Silly me.

- Auckland Airport --> rental house I was sharing with "Adelbert" and "Melinda" and their friends. Very, very nice house. One word - chandeliers. Also, close to One Tree Hill, a place with extra significance for U2 fans (among which I number myself).

- Climbing One Tree Hill. Most of the park surrounding it is covered in sheep that bleat loudly and mournfully at each other. MAAAAAAAA. MAAAAAAA.

It is a gentle climb up with a slightly steep part at the end but very do-able. It was also quite interesting to me in terms of people-watching:
- my typically southerner stereotype of Aucklanders was fulfilled when I saw a man carrying his fat little Pekinese dog up the hill.
- on the other hand, a bunch of buff shirtless Pasifika men were training on the hill, running around and around the steepest part. I enjoyed watching them while I casually strolled up!

- After coming down the hill, busing into the CBD. I remember shopping being more fun when I had lots of spending money. As it is now, shopping can be pretty boring, unless you're in a bookstore. I strolled around the central district for a while, feeling like a gross provincial among all the suits. Felt so much better when I met my friend Amanda for lunch. Amanda is doing an internship at a big law firm, and was dressed in her first proper suit ever, but had swapped her heels for jandals over the lunch break. Hooray! I suddenly felt like I fit in. (We dined at a friendly little cafe called Foodini's on High St with cheapish but lovely food. I would recommend it.)

- Then I lost my phone at a foodcourt very close to where the above photo was taken. Bused back to the house. Saga described in my last blog post. Thank you again, "Roger O'Leary"!

- In the evening, Adelbert, Melinda and I had dinner before their friends turned up, and then we decided to climb One Tree Hill again! Here I am at the top.

- The most exciting part was looking down and seeing Mt Smart Stadium all set up for the U2 concert which would start the next night. This is when I started to feel super-excited.

- At the bottom of the hill there is an observatory, which we visited on the way back. Here I am in a spaceman suit, naturally.
- We looked through telescopes at planets and stars, with a very keen assistant who couldn't help betraying his intense excitement about astronomy. "I just have to show you 47 Tuck," he said, fiddling with one of the telescopes. "It won't be very well illuminated tonight but you'll really like it."
Then, after he set up Alpha Centauri in the lens for us, Melinda had a look. "Oh, it's so pretty, so twinkly with little rainbows!" she exclaimed. "Oh, I'm so sorry," he said, deeply apologetic. "The atmosphere is getting in the way."

- Back to the house, where we watched bonus features on the DVD of the current U2 tour, and progressively worked up our excitement.

Friday, November 26, 2010

my little miracle

No, I have not given birth.

I do have a story, however, which I think is flippin miraculous and should be shared!!

So. I have been in Auckland, the largest city of New Zealand, for the last three days, for the U2 concert. I stayed with some friends who also came up from Christchurch for the concert, Adelbert and Melinda (fictional names), at the house they were renting. More on that later.

But for now, all you need to know is that I sat in a foodcourt in downtown Auckland having a milkshake and killing time at some point on Wednesday afternoon. Five minutes later, walking up Queen Street, I suddenly realised my phone was no longer with me.

Now, my phone is cheap and easily replaceable, but I was really going to need it plus the numbers stored on it over the next few days and I had a little freak-out. I rushed back to the foodcourt, checked the table - gone. Checked with the foodcourt staff - no phone. Checked with customer services - no phone.

Feeling dejected, I decided the best course of action was to bus back to the house I was sharing with Adelbert and Melinda, so I could make some calls. On the bus ride, I felt very cynical and very disparaging of Auckland. It was full of people who stole phones and honked their horns too loudly.

First I rang Dad.
Allie: "Hi Dad, I'm just ringing to say that I've lost my cellphone and can you let the others know so they know I can't get in touch with them?"
Dad: "Oh, yes, I heard about that."
Allie: "..... whAT?!"
Dad: "Yes, I sent you a message."
Allie: "Father. I just told you I lost my phone. I cannot receive messages!"
Dad: "Well, anyway, he called me, and told me he had your phone."
Allie: "WHO?!"
Dad: "Roger O'Leary." *fictional name, of course*
Allie: "Wow! Oh great, someone found my phone! I'll have to ring him to sort out getting it back."
Dad: "Oh, no, it's all right, someone's picking it up."
Allie: "... Huh?! WHO?!"

He didn't know. Completely perplexed and confused, I decided to ring my cellphone. A voice answered, "This is Allie's phone."
How utterly surreal! I said, "Ah, this is Allie...?"
"Allie. It's Adelbert here."

Adelbert was at the top of my contacts list, so when Roger O'Leary found my phone, he called Adelbert - the very person I was staying with in Auckland, one of the only people on my contacts list who was in Auckland, and who had a car and went straightaway to pick up my lost cellphone from the central city for me!!!

Adelbert had my old number, and would have told Roger that he didn't recognise the number except for the fact that he checked at the last minute with his wife Melinda, who coincidentally recognised the number from when she got it off me two days before!

Roger O'Leary was also going to the U2 concert the next evening.

He rescued my phone from a group of young guys who saw it sitting by itself on a table. When they sauntered over to it, he said, "Hey, what are you doing? That's not your phone."
They replied, "It's our friend's phone."
He said, "No, it's not."
They left. He took the phone, and called my father, and then, with no rational reason but alphabetical order, called one of the only people who was able to rescue it.

Roger O'Leary - your name is not really Roger O'Leary, but you know who you are - you are my knight in shining armour. Thank you for restoring my faith in humanity.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

I can't believe the news today...

I'm in Auckland, the U2 concert is tonight, I'm about to meet my new nephew, and there's so much I could tell you about... except that I'm just so overwhelmed with sorrow for the families of the miners in the West Coast. The news is here...

I can't believe the news today
Oh I can't close my eyes and make it go away
How long, how long must we sing this song?

What a horrible few months this has been for the New Zealand, but this tops it all.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I am off to Auckland on Wednesday for a little bit of a break, the U2 concert, and to meet my new niece or nephew, a stubborn little thing who is yet to appear.

Last time I went to the U2 concert, I was completely over-excited well before this point. Some of you may have had to put up with the most inane blog posts ever, listing the songs I hoped they would play and my thoughts on what it would be like and how I hoped I would be able to get as close to the front as possible. This time around, I'm only just starting to get excited.

It's strange to be thinking about frivolous things like this when, just over the mountains, 29 men are trapped underground after a mine blast on the West Coast. It looks like some action will be taken fairly soon, but the rescuers have been forced into inaction by conditions in the mine, and we are all feeling rather horrified by the odds against finding the men alive. All we can do is pray - and that's no small thing, so please help!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

copycat procrastibaking

A friend of mine brought some cupcakes with her to university the other day. A mark of real generosity of spirit, I think, because these were truly great cupcakes. I got the recipe off her - it can be found here - and proceeded to copy her.

"Velvet Chocolate and Beetroot Cupcakes" - which I made with cream cheese icing, like my friend, instead of the chocolate fudge icing suggested by the recipe. (They also make about 24 cupcakes, unlike the 16 suggested by the recipe.)

I don't know if you've ever eaten baking that involved beetroot - I certainly hadn't - but I was surprised at how beautiful these cupcakes were. I think it was the beetroot that gave the chocolate an added fruitiness and moistness.

I had not realised, either, how happy cupcake-making can be. I don't usually make them, but there's something about their general prettiness that made me feel so much more happy to be in the kitchen. This was less of a procrastibaking episode than normal.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

my new bookology blog

I thought I had invented the word "bookology" when I started using it on this blog. Well, that was a conceit that was to be smashed when I started creating a new blog and trying out URLs.

Anyway, the more crucial fact: I have started a new blog. It's called Armchair of a Bookologist. You can visit it here.

I recently discovered the wonderful reality of free review copies of books from publishing companies and decided to start a blog as well as reviewing some of them on Halfway Down the Stairs. I plan to review books both old and new, to ponder books in general and really to write anything down that comes into my head to do with books/reading/writing/literature. I hope you like it!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

an open letter

To the able supervisors of the world, and specifically mine,

Greetings. I appreciate you. I would be lost without you. You are amazing, and helpful, and wonderful in almost every way. I would have had a nervous breakdown long ago if it were not for you.

One small note, though. You spent basically a whole year in 2008 criticising my tendency to perfectionism. I admit that it took me some time to feel okay about submitting something to you that wasn't absolutely perfect. It took quite some trust of you on my part to start giving you unfinished drafts. So I am thankful that you made me realise that you wouldn't throw me out of university if I handed in something that was not very polished.

However, now that I have overcome this hurdle, I am beginning to feel tempted to revert into my perfectionism. Every time I send you a piece of writing, I make it very clear that I have not edited this for prose. All I want is to get down the basic ideas, however clumsy they may appear.

But it seems that you cannot resist the urge to point out all the failings of my draft chapters. The comments you return are heavily sprinkled with "Horrible prose!" "Awkward sentence" "Clumsy prose" in red pen, as if I were not aware of this already.

This makes it incredibly depressing to read through the comments. For one thing, it makes me feel like a very bad writer, as if every historian who ever existed managed to write in flawless, flowing prose at first attempt, as if ideas just flow beautifully out of historians without any painful hard work. I don't measure up to these paragons of my imagination.

For another, it makes me go a little bit insane, because I feel slightly offended that you think I didn't recognise these failings already. Of course there is bad writing in this draft! I realised that already! I feel overwhelming urges to run upstairs to your offices, comments in hand, and go through them painstakingly, assuring you both that I already knew that these chapters were not the pinnacle of literary achievement. This means I can hardly pay attention to your more helpful comments because I am so wound up about the unhelpful ones.

Also, it was actually very wise of me to choose not to revise my prose before I handed it to you. You have since told me that I need to rewrite/restructure everything. I am okay with that. I can see the need for it. It will make my thesis better. However, if I had spent hours making clumsy prose elegant, it would have been even more painful to completely scrap some sections and rewrite others.

Well, that's all I have to say. Let me assure you again that I think it is quite likely that I have the best supervisors in the world. I really do love being your thesis student. I am just having a little trouble with this one particular issue and I needed to vent. I will still bake you an amazing cake each when I finish my MA, and write you a card full of hyperbole when it comes to your mad supervisory skills.

Yours sincerely,

Monday, November 8, 2010

horrid books

I've been reading some horrid books lately, books written leading up to the second world war, books supporting Hitler and justifying his policies against the Jews. At this stage there was no Holocaust but there was so much ugliness, and these are ugly books, written by horrid people. I don't really enjoy reading them.

When I was doing my research at the British Library last year, I asked to look at a few British Fascist journals, and was surprised to be told that I could, as long as I moved over close to the librarians' desk so they could keep an eye on me. I was surprised, but after I looked at the newspapers I understood. It could have been very tempting to many people to rip those papers up, they were filled with such foul thoughts. In the interests of preserving history I had no such temptation, but I could understand the urge.

It's not pleasant, but it is yet another way in which history has been brought alive for me, and in which my own motivations for doing history have been made clear. It really matters that someone reads these books, and reminds others about what we can become if we are not careful.

As an afterthought: This is just another reason why I'm concerned that the British Government has recently decided to cut 40% of its funding of its universities, specifically targeting the arts and humanities. [See Naomi Wolf's take on the matter here.] Because, apparently, science and technology are the only things that matter. Lip service will be paid to the crucial part the arts and the humanities play in our civilisation. Politicians will pretend that an insightful and honest interpretation of the past matters to them, and that history is not merely a tool for their own personal axe-grinding. And, meanwhile, people will not understand what happened, because there will be no money to read old things at the British Library.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

the glorious future

I've been thinking about what I'm going to do when I finish my thesis.

1. Let off the party poppers a friend gave me for this very occasion. Drink some wine, eat some chocolate, generally have as good a time as I can afford (which isn't much).

2. Think up a really good I-have-finished-my-thesis facebook status update. The priorities we have these days...!

3. Get a job, earn some money. The thought is so novel I do not know what to make of it!!

4. Start writing a novel. Any novel.

5. Read more novels and serious works of literature without frying my brain.

6. Join Amnesty International properly, and actually take an active part in something voluntarily.

7. Have downtime. Time in which I do not have half my mind thinking about my thesis.

8. Spend some time thinking about my options without feeling like I don't have time to think about my options.

9. Tend some plants.

10. ... Any further ideas?

Quaking update: We have now a grand total of 2,488 earthquakes since the big 'un on September 4. The small, continuous ones have stopped coming every day, but every few days we get a comparatively big one. They've become a part of life and it will be very weird when they stop! At what point, I wonder, do they stop being aftershocks and become earthquakes in their own right?

Monday, November 1, 2010

biting is un-English

One of the newspapers I have been using for my thesis is the weekly New Statesman and Nation, and one of the things I love about this particular paper is its feature, 'This England', which appeared every single week. Readers sent in cuttings from papers, journals and signs all around Britain which had turned out to be unintentionally funny. I find them hilarious, and wanted to share some with you. These are all from 1942, so it's three years into the second world war:

"It is very un-English to bite people, and I would like you to impress that on these men," said Mr. J. H. Campbell, K.C., R.M., at Belfast Custody Court to-day to the captain of a Dutch ship who was acting as interpreter for three of his crew who were charged with disorderly behaviour at a dance hall in the York Street area last night.
The captain replied: "It is very un-Dutch, too, your Worship."
- in the Belfast Telegraph.

A Good Omen in the Scullery?
I set a mouse-trap (break back) and caught three mice at one setting. It happened on the night of November 7-8, when Oran and Algiers were invaded--surely this is a good omen?
- Letter in Picture Post.

Wanted: an ISLAND on the Inner Hebrides, with ancient Castle preferred.
- Advt. in Oban Times.

Exp. Swineherd, C.O. but athlet. fit. (tho' now no wght.-lftr owg. accid.) mst. obt. lghtr. lndwrk. or hosp.). Oxon., Hons., Phil. Pol. Ecn. Sh.-tp., sec. knldge., resp. admin. exp.
- Advt. in New Statesman.

His crew, on the other hand, he said never failed to enjoy the excitement of being depth-charged.
- Report in the Manchester Guardian.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

two birthdays

I went to my niece's fourth birthday party yesterday, super-excited about the present I had been working all week on for her. It is a fairy kit, for all her fairy needs:

It includes:
- a fairy playlist CD
- edible fairy toadstools
- cornflower seeds and a little pot to plant them in, to attract the cornflower fairy
- a book: "Flower Fairies of the Garden", so she can learn more about the types of fairies that will visit
- a wand. Of course.
- colouring in pages and stickers
- pink fairy dust, a miniature fairy bell, and fairy bubbles, to attract fairies
- a fairy tea set with which to welcome the fairies (in the tiny little white and pink box)
- a fairy purse.
- and finally a little book, a guide to this fairy kit.

I did go a little overboard, I have to admit. But I had so much fun. I also remembered to get a few fairy accessories for Niece-Aged-2 who understandably does not cope well with her big sister getting all the presents.

Anyway, the party was fun and included a princess bouncy castle. Niece-Now-Aged-4 loved the fairy kit but it was possibly upstaged by a Cinderella Disney Princess Barbie! The children ran around with that look of utter happiness which characterises small children's birthday parties. It was lovely.

It happened to be my birthday yesterday too. So I went straight from the four-year-old birthday party to a twenty-four-year-old birthday dinner at the Dux de Lux. It was really great and I was especially happy because a bunch of people from different areas of my life came along - old friends, university friends, church friends, etc. After dinner some of us traipsed back to our flat and I was surprised to find our living room full of 100 balloons!

Needless to say, the twenty-four-year-old birthday party soon became extremely similar to the four-year-old party. Looks of seraphic happiness, balloons flying through the air and eventually rubbed on hair and stuck to the ceiling. What is it about balloons that is so inducive of childish happiness?!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

summer is acumen in

I love this time of year.

I discovered a pretty garden on my way home from uni. It's across the road near the Staff Club and it's full of beautiful flowers. Bluebell carpets and glorious rhododendrons and the like.

It makes me happy and the stress melts away!

Monday, October 25, 2010

the final stretch

I am determined to finish my thesis by Christmas.

This is going to take quite some work.

I have a meeting with my supervisors on Wednesday in which we are going to figure out the direction my work needs to go in. This is what one of them wrote in an email about reading the last few chapters I've written: ...the existence of some problems, along with the basic quality of the research and the promise of the project. We need a long and deep discussion, as some restructuring may be needed.

It was nice of him to remember to say something kind - but I could already tell, as I read through what I've written now, that it's far from perfect and that the structure doesn't really work. I wasn't going to say anything about it because I hoped maybe I was wrong, but it looks like I'm in for a hard slog, uphill.

At the moment, I just want it to be over. I think once I've had the meeting and we've brainstormed a bit and I'm full of ideas, I'll be rearing to go. For now, I read it over and over, I jot down problems, and I rely on:

- caffeine. Procrastibaking. Cake.

- repeating to myself in all moments of utter panic my sister's PhD motto, taken from Finding Nemo's Dorie: "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming..."

- laughing at my situation and reminding myself that every single other thesis student goes through this and at least it's not a PhD: see Lord of the Rings allegory here...

- taking moments to do things like fix my bibliography or my footnotes, write my acknowledgments, etc. Nice practical tasks that remind me that I will finish. One sweet day.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

the way she sees the world

My niece has been doing some photography on Aunty Allie Tuesdays. I have an extremely childproof point-and-shoot camera (waterproof and therefore ideal for three-year-old usage), and I've found that photography is a great way to get the kids outside and running around, looking for things to photograph.

I think children's photography is incredibly interesting - a glimpse of their point of view of the world, which was ours once upon a time and which we've forgotten. How they see the world and what they think is important. So here are some 3-year-old-Niece's shots, for your viewing pleasure.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

unnatural women

There is a widespread idea that models have only just become unnaturally sized and dangerous to emulate. Not a myth? These clips from 1930s newspapers would suggest otherwise!

Monday, October 18, 2010

pie ... and cider

I'm going through a cider phase at the moment. I LOVE IT. And the other night when I decided to make a rhubarb pie, and discovered I was missing one ingredient - an orange - I decided to use cider instead!

Okay, so it's not the most thrilling recipe adaptation ever made. It's exciting for me, though, because I normally keep to the recipe as if I'm rewiring a circuit and one false move will zap me. This also happens to be the dessert that I always requested when I was a child, and which my mother always made for my birthday, etc. So it's pretty remarkable that I would allow anything to change about it.

So this is the recipe for my rhubarb and cider pie, which is MOSTLY someone else's recipe, from a long time ago, but partly mine!

I cheat and buy sweet shortcrust pastry, and use it to line the pie tin. Keep some aside for the lattice top.

For the filling you will need about 500g rhubarb stems (without the poisonous leaves) chopped up into small slices, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon jelly (jell-o?) crystals, 1/4 cup flour, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and enough cider to make the whole lot of this moist but not too runny.

Put all this into the lined pie tin.

To make a lattice top:
1 - roll the pastry out into a circle measuring the same as the top of the pie.
2 - cut it into 1cm strips.
3 - Drape half the strips across the pie in one direction.
4 - Fold every second one back.
5 - Lie a strip crosswise, near the centre, and then unfold the folded strips.
6 - Fold the previously unfolded strips back over the crosswise strip.
7 - Continue following this method, until you have used all the strips and formed a lattice design.
Press all of these against the edges.

Bake at 220*C / 430*F for 20 minutes until golden brown, then at 180*C / 350*C until the rhubarb is tender.

This is SERIOUSLY YUMMY. Be careful. It disappears fast.