Monday, 29 September 2008

Farewell Sweet Youth...

On Sunday, over a scrumptious breakfast at a cafe on Cowley Road, I experienced my first serious bout of 'Holy crap, I am nearly 30 and I am not [insert various personal/ societal expectations and one obvious biological function]!'

I am one of those treasures who has always liked the 'guess my age' game. I have pretty much always been told that I look far younger than I am. 'You fools', I think, 'it's just my smooth skin, puppy eyes and as for that merry glint in in my eye...Well, that's just in wonderful anticipation of being told I look youthful.'

But perhaps this whole squinting at the screen all day has started to take its toll, or perhaps I am more of a drinker than I think I am (I am pretty sure I am of the 'nurse one drink for 3 hours 'kind), or maybe it's all this damned endless worrying about how I might not look or feel young at any point and therefore had better make the most of my youth by acting recklessly that is sapping me of my vital chi. Maybe I should be going to bed for lights out at 9:30pm instead of 11:00pm for some reading and analysing.

In any case, I was reclining against the wine red cushions on the bench, half-committed to the papers, very committed to my hot chocolate, when my new German friend (and it's not that relevant that he's German, but it might explain how seriously I am taking his comment; they're not known for frivolity or exaggeration) made a comment along the lines of me 'getting on in life'. I said, rather perplexed, 'How old do you think I am?' He said, '29'. I said, a little winded, 'Yeah, I am. How did you know?' He replied, 'You can tell it from your eyes, they look like they've seen and experienced a few things' (or something very similar to this, Your Honour). But what I heard was: 'You can tell from your crack whore, heavily-lined eyes that you're a bitter, washed-up, hopeless, has-been who should either be married with brats or at least not hanging out with people in their early 20s'.

I said, 'Wow, most people think I look around 26.' He said, 'Does this bother you? Is this something you worry about all the time?' (Clever bastard). I wanted to say that I felt like he had just drop-kicked me into the backyard BBQ of a team of 30 year olds: the men (big boys) sporting babies strapped to their chests, Mambo T-shirts, cargo shorts and chunky slip-on shoes and the women singlet tops, floral skirts or linen pants, bulky diamond rings and gold sandals. Men tending to the steaks, women tossing the salads. Opinions on property, skiing holidays, school selection and fees competing with the latest Ministry of Sound compilation.

I wanted to say that I hadn't really worried about my age before, and thank him for pointing out my quickening march towards death, and, what's more, for making me feel like that undignified parent who tries to make friends with their children and their children's friends, those ones who brought out Champagne at parties when you were 13 and you sensed that the world wasn't quite as ordered or safe as you'd been led to believe.

What I said was, 'No, no, I am not worried about that at all.' But I am. I am not devastated, I can see the light-hearted side of it all, but I am changed somehow. I know this is tied up with vanity and perhaps I should embrace my overflowing wisdom and more even temperament, but I also feel this whole thing has doused some of my sense of play and sparkle.

If you have any words (your own or of others) that would help me perceive this differently, I would be most grateful.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Airfield Adventure

On Sunday, when life felt so much kinder, The Boy and I embarked on a 3 hour walk from my write-up retreat (his parents' house). It was one of the clearest, warmest days of the year.

There was something about the combination of barn houses, poppies, crop fields, a lazy airfield (with your planes, gliders and skydivers) and my obsession with North by Northwest that made our afternoon stroll seem like a film, probably a thriller ending with hand held camera (chasey cam) in the cornfields.

I am an Award-Winner!


I probably won't receive this type of lovely praise until after I submit, and by then I will probably be too tired and bitter to receive it, so I am going to lap this up and hope that it lasts a while. It's a blog award from Kate of Love You Big. She is my most consistent and active reader which makes it even more special. Thanks Kate! Quelle suprise!

The rules of this award are:
1. Choose seven of your favourite blogs to nominate and link back to them
2. Link to the person from whom you received the award
3. Leave a message on the blogs that you've nominated
4. Post the award on your blog (optional)

I could spend some time hunting around for blogs which connect more closely to mine, or those which are supremely pretty or popular. But I am going to award those I currently read and thoroughly enjoy (and some of them are very pretty and popular too!). The rules ask for seven and I have seven on my blog list. If that's not fate, well...(double chin wobble)

I include Kate's blog, even if it may be in slight breach of the rules.

And the winners are:

1. love you big: for gorgeous design, crafty activities and general inspiration
2. Law and Letters: savvy, sassy musings of an aspiring Law Professor
3. My Wandering Days: a young Californian writer perfecting her craft in Oxford
4. I Hate Mornings: Ben Walker' songs, social media commentary and tributes to rural England
5. The Plot Thickens: the ultimate film blog - I am sure of it
6. Words and Pictures: for photography love
7. Residualimage: for the thoughts, talents and experiences of a Harvard PhD student

Permission to Rest

image from
I have a Man Cold. It started as a scratchy throat and escalated last night into intense nausea, stomach cramps, achy wrists, and a blocked nose. I was up for most of the second half of the night, breathing like Darth (why did he have to die?), telling dark shapes that I have changed my mind about England: it is too epidemic-friendly (half of Oxfordshire has a cold, the other half look like they have had one) to remain a serious contender as the location for my nest. I am in the country (population: 100) and the little beast still managed to track me down and pounce on me, cunningly taking advantage of my post-conference fatigue. I simply get ill more often in this part of the world. I would say I am on about two colds and one random icky bug/year. It may very well be the thesis (and student lifestyle) making me constantly vulnerable, but I think it has a lot to do with having to touch people here, having to share all sorts of things. There's almost always at least a metre between people in Australia - we respect dance space.

I am less concerned with my nest and dance space right now, and more with my thesis timetable (and my supervisor's expectations). I am in that awful situation where I have 10 000 words to edit, but very little energy to concentrate, let alone feel positive about it. I have given myself permission to do 3 solid hours only and spend the rest of the day resting. I think that's a pretty fair deal, right?

Sunday, 21 September 2008

It's Con-ference, It's Con-ference Time

I presented a paper at a conference in London last week. BTW, I have Business Time (Flight of the Conchords) in my head, hence the title.

  1. Escaping my bubble (write-up) within a bubble (Oxford) to meet other, more experienced academics in my field. Even just seeing that there are breathing people behind all the articles and books is comforting.
  2. Cruising (avec iPod) to the conference each morning via Blackfriar's Bridge and Temple Gardens. Felt that elusive sense of being on my own and liking it.
  3. Learning something from the extra-curricular activities: 'how to get published' and 'how to get funding' - both vital in this crazy publish (preferably empirical or policy based research) or perish world. The Cambridge University Press representative frightened the baby scholars like me with grim statistics and a warning that theses with an 'international' dimension fare better. Fate united us in the lift later on and I told her that I had decided, after what she had said, to pack it all in, that there was no way I could tack on an international element. I am not sure if she knew I was not serious.
  4. I was going to end my presentation by saying 'Now, I welcome positive, constructive feedback' but I figured that I might sound like a hyper-sensitive, stupidly proud academic (who me? I eat unhelpful, personal attacks for breakfast!) so I didn't. And, quite surprisingly, the comments were all positive and helpful. Got to be happy about that.
  5. Receiving four emails the day after my presentation asking for further copies of my paper, suggesting potential research collaborations and future presentations. Noice.
  6. Giving out my pretty special MOO cards which have photographs symbolising my research interests on the back. Smooth.
  7. Having a 'blind' reviewer inform me that my article I submitted three months ago has been accepted into a solid journal. Yipee! Am ticking the boxes!
  1. Craving sweets throughout the day, red wine in the evening. Not being able to resist either.
  2. The lights from the opposite building creeping through the curtain, aggravating my already jittery sleep.
  3. Giving this nervous female academic (15 years my senior) this pep talk about how women often undervalue their work and that she was entitled to be there, that she would be able to handle the feedback etc, only for her talk to then be rather weak and poorly received (gulp). I felt like a mother taking off the training wheels and sending her child into a tree. I still remember her face - eyes blinking - turning to me for help. I could not think of a question that would bail her out. It was awful, she felt bad, and the more I tried to reassure her, the more she would repeat that I would be OK because I was from Oxford. Geez.
  4. Spotting a couple of English guys huddled together after the 'how to get published' talk and asking them in a fat jolly chef kind of way if they were 'negotiating a book deal?' I hadn't picked up that they were the smug and impenetrable English type - not to be confused with the cool but polite Constant Gardener type and one of them said, 'We are actually, now sod off'. I said lightly, 'OK. I can't wait to read it'.
  5. Hearing academics whose work I admire slag off each other behind each other's backs. I just felt like saying 'Oh, please don't.' Actually, I did tell one person that I did not feel comfortable and that I was not in any place to comment. A gratuitous bitchfest felt so last century for me in my personal journey down the road of life, that winding road of life. My Head of Dept has since told me that I should not expect academics to behave any better than any one else.
  6. Post-conference fatigue. I feel like I have been to an early 90s rave or at least that's what I think I would have felt like had I been to one.
  7. Befriending someone there - a really gentle, nice guy - who is now convinced we are bosom buddies. He has emailed me three times since I returned home. Conferences are like reality TV shows: people think they have bonded more than they really have. We just walked back from the conference to the accommodation a couple of times. I think that merits an email if he is ever in Oxford, that's it.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Lost in a Village

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Tiny bits of England I am learning to love...

  1. Stephen Fry
  2. Women from old money - those dotty ones who garden a lot, have a sharp tongue and generous chat
  3. Noel Fielding
  4. Dry stone walls
  5. Withnail and I
  6. Mock the Week and Never Mind the Buzzcocks
  7. Punting
  8. Buttercups
  9. The pink dawn scene in Pride and Prejudice
  10. That being ugly is OK, sometimes an advantage
  11. Flatness (panoramic views, such as this one of Kirtlington, Oxfordshire taken by me or The Boy - we haven't agreed on that one yet)
Having had a look over my list, one thing's clear: I am getting wussy! Someone please send me some tan bark, a bluebottle, sun burn, a manly man from Manly (as The Boy calls Aussie blokes), a waratah, delusions of grandeur, a knuckling to the head.

Getting Crafty

One of my cosmic siblings (no, not in a SWF kinda way), Kate, continues to astound me with her Crafty McCraftiness. She sticks and varnishes maps onto shelves, pops out swanky badges, bakes robot cakes for her preciouses and creates breathtakingly sweet cross-stitched hankies. You should check out the stuff she sells...especially while her September sale is on.

So this morning, I decided to get a bit of tactile time in before tending to the little bastard (next chp). I made some fairly cute cards. Half of my family and friends, it seems, were the product of shameless (Australian) summer lovin.' They arrived into this godforsaken world therefore in the already crowded months of September and October. I am going to unleash my cards onto them although they don't necessarily deserve them more than anyone else.

Otherwise, am about to finish Coetzee's Slow Man, watching snippets of The Mighty Boosh and getting a lesson in Debussy from The Boy (who wants his babies).

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

More CowGummy Goodness

Some more enchanting photographs and designs from CowGummy, including a picture of the Radcliffe Camera, Oxford (top), part of the Bodleian Library, and where I spent loads of time during my first couple of years here.

I have started my next, yeah, about those six things, ahem...yeah. I am a little smoothie!

Purge Please

Photo by CowGummy

Starting a new (ethnographic) chapter involves conjuring - it requires faith, intense channeling, intuition, and magic.

Here are some thoughts that are pawing me like a cheeky cat, blocking my ability to summon this little bastard chapter forth:

1. I am in a room by myself. I need attention. Who wants to play? Writing my chapter or clicking Firefox logo...empty page or sleepy fox?

2. I wrote an email to a Professor whose article I used in my last chapter telling him how brilliant it was. He said it made his day. Glad to have brought some generosity and positivity to the academic world...But will I continue to do so once I take a sip from the glory cup? Mwahaha!

3. My best eggs are going each month or thereabouts. Babies have recently become appealing and cute instead of strange and boring. But the problem is: I don't want to keep one. Have I mentioned my velcro wall on which I hope to stick any future kiddies?

4. Love...marriage...the usuals. Can I be bothered?

5. Extrinisic versus intrinsic rewards...another regular in the pub of my mind. What a liberty!

6. I have specialised too much. I know beaucoup about the legal profession of England and Wales, a bit about law, some neat theories from Sociology, Philosophy and Education, a tad from Anthropology, I have a smattering of History (Europe 'between the Wars', American, Australian, Art), I can tell you about UK Higher Education policy, how not to make a short film, but then nothing else. I am still not over the grandiose desire of my teens to know a little bit about everything, even just a bit more science and politics...and that damned Russian literature. Got to get back to that. I'm a lightweight who will never be great at anything. I can barely get my head around Microsoft Word.

Monday, 1 September 2008

The Brick Testament

Who wants to see photography of Lego depicting The Bible stories?

I wish I could provide a sample of this inspired art, but it would be in breach of Rev. Smith's terms and I just can't do it!

Click here and then let me know how excellent they are. My fave so far is Jacob wrestles God from Genesis.

Pretty Angleterre

This is where I am spending the Summer. The Boy helped me take these: