Friday, August 17, 2007

Monkey Swallows The Universe

First, let me apologise. I don't have a photo of next door's cat. I'm not certain that it's illegal to sneak a photo of someone else's pet and then put it on the internet next to accusations of murder, but I don't want to risk it. And it would just be weird. However, if I did have a photo of the cat, and I did put it on the internet, and you could see the untrammelled hatred in its eyes, then you would understand.

Earlier this week I went to York briefly to catch the lovely Monkey Swallows The Universe play a little gig at the City Screen Basement Bar. MSTU are an indie band from Sheffield, and are very popular round here because their song Sheffield Shanty mentions lots of local places, like the Arts Tower (opposite my department) and Crookes (where I live). Sorry, this makes them sound like they have just one good song, but in fact they've just released their second album and it's a real blinder. What's more, as far as I can tell, the lead singer -- who also plays guitar and writes the songs -- is a real genius. Follow the link and have a listen!

Meanwhile, I seem to have fallen passionately in love with Sarah Dempster from the Guardian, who writes those little "what's on telly tonight" reviewlets with vicious scorn:

10 Years Younger Summer Special
8pm, Channel 4

In the first of a vexing cluster of seasonal "specials", style mandarin Nicky Hambleton-Jones comes to the rescue of Ruth Howard, a chipper charity manager whose considerable personal achievements are apparently rendered null and irrelevant by the fact that she has a) a gap between her teeth, and b) a stomach that resembles a dead turkey. "You could sweep the floor with my tits!" she hoots, entering into the spirit of buoyant self-evisceration that makes this series so uplifting. While a team of surgeons set about her bits with chisels and sandpaper, Hambleton-Jones offers us such handy tips as "the skin around the eyes is delicate". Invaluable advice for those considering using the area to sand their skirting boards, perhaps. But for everyone else, a spluttering raspberry in the face of human decency.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

I Swear That Next Door's Cat Wants Me Dead

Next door's cat wants me dead. This bandy-legged contraption goes by the name of Harvey and has a habit of wiping its arse on the lawn. When its owners aren't busily banging one bit of wall into another bit of wall using tinfoil for nails and string for glue outside my bedroom window at the crack of dawn, this cat will be waiting outside to stare me in the eye before waddling off like it's got a gun or a flick-knife or at least a nugget of murderous intent hidden in there somewhere.

The other night I opened the back door to put out the milk bottles (Domesticity Alert: milk is delivered to the house daily) when the cat popped out of its flap for the sole purpose of delivering me a hate-filled yellow-eyed glare. I took this as a warning; an I see you, human! type warning.

Okay, now let me enthuse about the book Darkmans by Nicola Barker that I read a month or two ago. It's an 800-page comic novel set in Ashford in Kent, about various people, some of whom are being haunted or maybe possessed by a mediaeval court jester. Forget all that. It's just very clever and very funny. Here's a bit that made me bellow with laughter on the train. Gaffar, who is Kurdish and speaks half in turkish and half in english (the typeface changes accordingly), is describing an acquaintance to Beede:

'She's trapped in a suffocating marriage,' Gaffar sighed, gazing poignantly after her. 'Separate bedrooms. Her son died last year. She blames herself for the whole thing because she was having an affair. Her husband's an insensitive pig who has no understanding of her needs. He's obsessed by this African macaw which he got from an Exotic Bird Rescue Centre in Canterbury. He's taught it all the phrases from Top Gear. Sleeps with it. Takes it to work. Rings it - whenever he goes out - and leaves these idiotic messages on the answerphone ...'

A couple of pages later, Gaffar has collapsed in the cheese aisle at the supermarket because he has a morbid fear of salad. A woman who works at the supermarket is checking he's okay:

      'And where do you live now, Gaffar?'
Gaffar pointed down the cheese aisle.
  'He lives on the cheese aisle,' Beede said, 'apparently.'
'I am love of cheese,' Gaffar confirmed.
      Susan Pope nodded, slowly.

(And since you ask, the paragraph indenting above is as it appears in the book. That's another amusing or annoying thing about it.)

Friday, July 20, 2007

Me Versus The Boiling Mud
My Feet In The North Atlantic

This is an account of my recent week in Iceland, where I stayed with Stefan and Elinborg in their lovely new flat in Reykjavik. If I had to sum everything up in one word it would be "stylish". I think I used this word almost constantly, to describe the people, the houses, the shops, more or less everything. Just look though, even the pools of subterranean goo are a fetching colour!

Just a few of the things I did or went to:
1) Little Stefan's baptism. It was really nice to be invited and given my chance to hold the baby. (Apparently next time I will be babysitting.)

2) Witnessed the boiling mud (pictured) on a driving tour around Krisuvik and other places.

3) Sampled the Reykjavik nightlife in the pub where the famous people go. Apparently I saw five famous Icelanders, but you'd have to ask Olafia exactly who they were.

4) A fascinating visit to Iceland's archives courtesy of Elinborg's dad.

5) Whale watching from Reykjavik harbour. I saw lots of puffins and the back of a minke whale! That's one fin, and a bit of back, for about a second; most of the time I was sitting calmly not being seasick.

6) Had coffee in Kaffitar, my new favourite coffee shop.

7) Went on a typical touristy coach trip to the Snaefellsnes peninsula. Saw a glacier and got attacked by Arctic Terns. This is also the occasion when I paddled in the North Atlantic. Everyone else on the bus thought that this made me hard as nails, but in fact I've been in colder seas in Filey. It was all helped by the tour guide saying that you can swim but only for a few minutes before the cold gets you, which of course he himself can do! Apparently none of this is true though. Ah well.

7) The Golden Circle with the neeps. This included Thingvellir, Gullfoss, and the very original geysir at Geysir, but sadly it no longer actually geysirs unless there's been volcanic activity.

8) All sorts of other things! I might append them soon if time allows.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The New Internationalist

That's me. How has this transformation occurred? Well, point one, a few weeks ago I was in beautiful Lille for an exciting maths summer school. This was surprisingly good fun ... the people were sociable, the maths was accessible, and the town was beautiful. Most amusing was the sheer excitement of one of the american participants when he found a hedgehog in the university grouds. Apparently you don't get hedgehogs in the states (and porcupines, armadillos, grizzly bears and mountain lions apparently don't cut the mustard), so this was a cause of much excitement. Doesn't mean that they had to trap it in a cardboard box though!

Point two, tomorrow I will visit Iceland to spend some time with the neeps and do other exploring. I hope to see puffins, alive or cooked, glaciers, volcanoes, geysirs, dried fish, rotten shark, oh, and to meet lots of nice people. Probably I will spend my time wandering around Reykjavik getting lost, but even that will be good fun.

I have therefore armed myself with some travel sickness pills to combat my aversion to air travel, which, last time I tried it, left me a pale sweaty wreck with no desire ever to leave the country again. This is why I Eurostarred to Lille! Feel free to browse my beautiful new article. Besides this, television and DVD and running for fun are my current masters, particularly Big Brother (do I hate Charley?) and The Shield and Lodge Lane.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Like a ginger Jack Shephard ...

... or perhaps the missing third Mitchell brother. Anyhow, I tell myself every day how beautiful I am, so what you people think is hardly important!

So last week I was in Edinburgh for the fantastic Maxwell Colloquium. This was a one-day conference that featured some really exciting talks (and if this makes you raise a sarcastic eyebrow as if to say "exciting topology my arse!", then remember that you're the one reading a maths-themed blog) and left me feeling very enthusiastic. Of course it was also great to see the old place and the grimy, nondescript people I tend to call my friends (and whom I still need to post some of Woolworth's finest Mentos for YouTube-style experimenting).

Off to Lille in just over a week for yet more maths, this time a summer school given by Michael Weiss, which -- as if you lot would know! -- is exciting, but more exciting still is the fact that I get to go on Eurostar! I suppose this really just involves being on a train that gets gloomy for a bit, but it surely beats flying.

Compelled to mention the current reading-matter, Darkmans by Nicola Barker. The cover's a bit shit, and the whole thing's over 800 pages long, but it's fantastic so far, not least for the exceptional dialogue. I'll think about giving a more detailed description in future when I've read more. Watch this space.

Finally, with my blogging duty done and my stomach more-or-less recovered from cheeky Hobbit-chef Jamie Oliver's fantastic sticky toffee pudding (which I, who apparently am "good at puddings", made without even having to practice), I'm off to watch the Lost Season Three Finale. It's been fantastic so far, I certainly didn't watch five episodes back to back last night, and -- for any of you who got bored of all the faffing -- you really do get some answers in series three. Can't wait.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The world is jealous of my gleaming boxfresh treads (pictured).

This photo was taken to preserve for posterity the daybright wonders that are my new running shoes. Yesterday I took them for their first proper outing and was worried that they'd get all muddied by the great outdoors. But despite my taking a tumble halfway along the Rivelin Valley, the shoes returned from their ordeal just as bright and breezy as when they left. (I ended up having to tweezer bits of path out of my hand, but that's another story.)

What's more, my knees (also pictured) are causing a stir in the world of politics. PM-in-waiting Gordon Brown has called them "the next big policy issue", while Tory leader David Cameron has dismissed them as an abomination that "no right-thinking person would condone." The knees themselves have issued a press statement asking that they be allowed to bear their considerable burden in private, out of the public gaze.

Finally, shocking events in the real world! I refer, of course, to the inexplicable departure of Daniel and Melinda from their respective competitions. I had them both down as winners! This means that either I am totally out of tune with public opinion, or that I should have phoned in to vote. But which is it?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Windowsill Visitor

Today my bedroom windowsill had the honour of playing host to this visitor, who I think belongs to the people next door. That's the other next door, not the people we share a garden with. Their cat is a malicious one-eyed minger named Harvey who once gave me a dirty look while I was washing up and would certainly not be welcome on my windowsill. This one can come back anytime it likes though.

Apparently next week's Culture Show will feature Charlie Brooker discussing the phenomenon of "TV elimination shows", which I assume refers to Joseph rather than programmes about beardy purists eliminating televisions one by one like emotionless culture-daleks. Anyhow, can't wait!