We’ve had a quiet Christmas at home, the first one we’ve ever not spent with other people. We’ve avoided the traditional festive excess, although I did buy a tree, which is currently festooned with various plush animals, scented pine cones, tinsel and blue lights that resemble tiny aliens or deep sea bioluminescence more than they do fairies. As we’ve both been suffering from the plague that suddenly descended upon Aberdeen, it was quite nice to have the time to recover.
I’m already looking forward to next year’s triathlon season, and contemplating camping destinations for the summer. My new, water-resistant Vibrams should arrive in time for New Year so maybe we’ll be able to resurrect our Hogmanay Chain Walk tradition — winter adventuring has been out of the question for the last couple of years because of my dodgy foot, as the existing Vibram Fivefinger models are neither waterproof nor especially warm. Not ideal for Scottish weather in the cold months.
I have been restricted to short walks in big boots, but there are still beautiful things to be seen even then. One of the joys of this time of year is the low sun in crisp, clear skies.
I have a particular love for the interactions of sun, sea, sand and sky, and in winter they can be especially glorious. My skill with the camera not being sufficient to do them justice doesn’t stop me trying.
As has become something of a tradition over the past couple of years, we’re spending Christmas away from (temporary) home in the company of family. As is also something of a tradition, we’re spending the holiday season in the back of beyond where there is almost no phone reception, so if you have sent me any text messages wishing me good cheer and I haven’t replied it’s not because I don’t love you any more: I haven’t received it. We do, however, have wifi and this year I brought a laptop so I can continue writing.
The lodge where we’re staying is amazing. Seriously amazing. I could live in a house like this quite happily. The only thing that could make it better is if it were a lighthouse, but I’m being picky. The weather so far has been fairly grim and dreich, so the light has been far too poor for taking photographs. Still, I snapped this shot of the view from the upper balcony in an effort to show the spectacular view of the torrents roaring constantly in the background. We sleep with the window open.
Yesterday Frood and I went out with the parents on a short but windy, wet and enjoyable bike ride to explore a little. Needing something that would fit on the rack, and with most of the noble steeds in storage, I was obliged to bring Shackleton, sporting his brand new wheels (more on that particular saga later). The thing is, I’ve put the Hutchinson Gold Cross tyres on him in preparation for the snows, and I left the 16 tooth sprocket on, so he’s currently rolling around with gear inches in excess of 70. This would be fine for the hill-free streets of Aberdeen, but out here in the wilds the roads come in lumpy. I think we did all of 6 miles yesterday and my legs are no longer speaking to me. I am seriously out of practise on fixed!
Finally, here is medium-sized Stitch (still on his Scotland tour) wearing the Stitch slippers Nick and Candice got me for my Christmas:
It’s my birthday. Birthdays are cool and special and I’ve never grown out of feeling that there is something particularly important about birthdays. I know other people feel differently about birthdays. Some seem to treat them as something to ignore: an inevitable indicator of time passing and thus mortality; another year, another set of wrinkles. To some they are an excuse to party.
To me they are something to celebrate in a congratulatory fashion. Hey! Well done you! You survived another year and you know what? You’re doing okay, actually.
We moved recently —are still sort of halfway, if truth be told— and while packing I found a photograph of myself taken
many several an unspecified number of birthdays ago. It was one of four identical pictures taken in a photobooth, back when I was still cutting my hair very short and shortly after I acquired my very first black artificial eye (a huge moment in the personal history of me). I think this was the year I went to Ashton Court Festival and became inordinately attached to a helium balloon in the shape of a dolphin, which I called Jones.
My friend Charlotte commented:
Cor, that looks like a portrait from the assasins’ academy graduation yearbook.
I think she has a point.
Women with hair that short attract the wrong sort of attention and attitudes. The immediate assumption, if only of those who feel it is appropriate to voice such opinions to strangers, is that one is either a “dyke” or a cancer victim. Unless the woman in question is playing a particular part in a movie, or is a model doing a show that is avante garde, or “edgy”, then hair that short is generally considered unattractive, and I’m pretty sure that presumptions about gender roles play a large part in that. Long hair on a woman is usually better regarded than short hair. Women often invest a lot in having long hair — look at the tearful reactions of the would-be supermodels on reality shows such as America’s Next Top Model during the makeover section, when their precious locks are lopped off in the name of fashion.
It’s only hair. It does grow back.
I loved having short hair. I loved the practicality and fuzziness of it — it was incredibly soft. I liked how it emphasised my bone structure and showed off my ears. I thought it looked good.
Six years ago I reluctantly stopped shearing mine with the clippers once a month, as I was planning on re-entering the job market and I knew it would create a poor first impression. I resent the expense of a hairdresser — when I had it cut for the wedding in March it cost me £60! — and so I have grown it out to the point where it no longer needs that attention.
Although I won’t, because in the real world sometimes being professional requires that one refrains from being unconventional, looking at this photograph made me want to cut it all off again.
It was fluffy. We like fluffy!
We’re packing up the flat today — to be fair, Frood is doing most of the work. Partly this is because there’s not much space to work with all the boxes and things stacked up all over the place, partly it’s because he has ninja packing skills and I’m rubbish; and partly it’s because I’m completely cream-crackered at the moment and feel like a limp dishrag that can’t so much pack as flap feebly at items in an attempt to shoo them into their boxes. I thought I’d come and blog a bit while he’s dismantling my desk. I am sure I’d only get in the way. Every time I offer to help he says no.
I was a big fan of speculative fiction even when I was younger. I read Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed when I was 10, although I didn’t really grasp all of the themes until I was much older. When I was at school I discovered Moorcock, and although I found the Elric and Hawkmoon books more entertaining (at the time), the series that stuck with me was that of Jerry Cornelius.
There is a scene in The Final Programme where Cornelius is attempting to infiltrate his brother Frank’s secret base somewhere on the coast of France, to rescue his sister. Some of the base defences are psychedelic in nature, blasting out hallucinogenic experiences that come straight from a bad acid trip.
When I saw this foghorn on the Torry peninsula Moorcock’s anarchic, polysexual superspy was the first thing that popped into my mind. I can all too easily imagine it blasting out rays that boil the brains of anyone foolhardy enough to approach too close, leaving them as dribbling wrecks whimpering about Cthonic colours and hyperdimensional clowns with spleens where their faces should be.
OK. I’ll admit it. I’m not a big fan of Neil Gaiman. This marks me out as a pariah in the world of SF&F, apparently, because Mr Gaiman can do no wrong.
Please don’t misunderstand me: it’s not that I think his work is rubbish. I quite enjoyed the early Sandman graphic novels. It’s just that, well, I think he is over-hyped. He doesn’t do it for me in the way Pratchett does, for instance. He doesn’t do it for me in the way Grant Morrison does. He doesn’t do it for me the way Warren Ellis does. Or Alan Moore (when he’s on form). That’s just my opinion and I’m sure he’d be the first to say I’m entitled to it. He’s the one making all the money, and I can’t imagine him giving a monkey’s uncle what I think one way or the other.
And yet, despite this, The Doctor’s Wife was the only episode of the current series I really enjoyed. I loved the emphasis on and exploration of the relationship between the Doctor and the big blue box that means so much to him. I liked the banter, which had been sorely missing since… pretty much since the Lodger back in Series 5 (River’s “What time do you call this?” was good, but not enough).
But… Oh, there’s always a but.
You know what? The sign on the door that says pull to open? That refers to the cupboard where the phone is kept, not the door to the police box. Look at the door design and the location of the hinges. The door can’t open outwards. Maybe TARDIS doors are supposed to open outwards, like fire doors are, but police box doors don’t because they can’t.
Can I say “Did not do the research” about Neil Gaiman? Seems a bit churlish given that he wrote the only episode of the current series I thought was any good.
Here’s a picture of Fingal next to an original police box:
We have a lot of police boxes in Edinburgh. They make me sad, because so many of them are in such a terrible state. This is what the Doctor’s TARDIS would have ended up looking like, I think, if House had had his way and no one had mentioned her being the last one.
There is a long and sorry tale practically worthy of a Norse saga associated with me and my mobile phone. Maybe one day I shall write the whole thing Edda-style: the challenge being that I am so fed up with it that it would be hard to make a reader not be fed up with it too.
For various reasons to do with the way Frood and I acquired our very first mobile phones, back in the dim and distant past, it hasn’t been easy to upgrade when time came due. My first relatively contemporary phone was a Sony Ericsson K850i, but I drowned it on a camping trip. Well. I say ‘drowned’. It got slightly moist in a manner my old Nokia would have shrugged off. Mind you, my old Nokia shrugged off being dropped in ponds, beer, puddles, the sea and even a toilet. There’s something to be said for old tech.
Since the damp demise of my previous mobile I’ve been using Frood’s old Samsung something-or-the-other, which weighs as much as half a housebrick and is sturdy enough to be used as a offensive weapon, assuming that you keep the slide shut. It has the most irritating interface of any phone I’ve ever used, and has reduced me to swearing on more than one occasion with its insistence on using a set of nested options positively bureaucratic in its complication in order to achieve the simplest of things (such as choosing a recipient for a text message). I’ve never experienced so many delayed voice message notifications or lost text messages as I have with this phone. And, to rub dirt into the road rash of annoyance, Frood has been sitting on the sofa twittering and facebooking on his WiFi networked HTC Android phone for about a year now. The git.
Last weekend we went to the shop and upgraded my phone. I am now the proud owner of a brand-new, shiny, HTC Desire S, and it has not only brought out the geek in me but given me cause to think.
First there’s the playlist problem. The HTC Desire S doesn’t recognise WMP, which means that transferring a playlist (.wpl) gets all the songs onto the phone, but not in the desired order. Thinking it might be another MMT setting I did some research, musing on how I was already coming at the problem from a whole new platform built on my experience with the Samsung. A problem that Frood has been dealing with for a while was solved in five minutes of google-fu. We’ve ended up installing MediaMonkey and now Frood is engaged in the task of converting our old PC into a proper music box, mostly by re-ripping all of our music so that it’s stored in a consistent format.
Then there’s the camera. It’s only 5MP. I had my eyes set on one of the new Sony Ericssons, with their 8.2MP cameras, but there weren’t any in stock and I do carry my Canon Ti 10MP around with me everywhere anyway. But then I discovered the retro camera app and I’ve been having some fun with that.
Here’s a picture of me wearing my new Buff hat. I took this using the standard camera. There’s a small front-facing camera on the phone so you can see what you’re doing in self-portraits, although you have to stay very still and the quality isn’t the best. The hat is reversible and adjustable and has a neoprene peak and groovy cave-painting style figures all over it, including one of someone on a bike. It is the best cycling hat I have ever had, and I own two Campag hats.
Speaking of which…
Here is a shot I took using one of the retro camera functions. It shows a box of Peroni (Italian beer) next to the new bottom bracket that finally arrived. It’s a Campag Centaur to go with my Centaur triple chainset. Two lovely Italian things. Beer and a bottom bracket.
I am the sort of woman who gets excited by shiny new tech toys, but only when they have improved functionality and make my life easier, more fun or more interesting. I’m also the sort of woman who can overhaul the transmission on her handbuilt British-made touring bike (with the 6mm offset rear triangle for an undished rear wheel, boo-yah baby) and appreciates not just the functionality of the bicycle but the inherent beauty in high-quality components.
This, for me, encapsulates what I find most geeky about myself. I’m wearing my new Minister of Chance t-shirt (GO! BUY! WE NEED MOAR!) — and I experienced a little warm glow of pleasure when I received an email from the crew thanking me for my support. There’s a bike in the background. In my life there is always a bike in the background. There’s a stack of Fortean Times magazines, because I use them as research and also harbour an ambition to write something one day they might publish. I took this using a retro camera on a shiny new smartphone with which I’m deeply in love: a camera effect I chose because it makes it look like I’m taking postcard shots during a zombie apocalypse. I’m wearing my buff hat, although you can’t see it, and I’m not looking my best. But that last point doesn’t matter. This is me. I have one eye: the missing one I have replaced with moulded black plastic. What is important about me isn’t what I look like. It’s not the fact that I have wrinkles and grey hairs or scarring from a skin disorder. It’s not, to revisit an old complaint, my breasts or my buttocks or whether lycra looks good on me.
I enjoy feeling attractive, and it’s not that I won’t make the effort on occasion. But it’s not what defines me. In a recent discussion online regarding the objectification of women one of the participants observed that it’s human nature to find people attractive: he used wanting to look good for one’s wedding as an example. And I think, for my wedding, I did about as good a job as I could have done with what I’ve got without calling in the services of a professional stylist.
But wanting to be and enjoying being seen as attractive doesn’t make a woman’s looks public property and it doesn’t grant tacit approval for her to be reduced to breasts and bum and maybe a pretty face on top.
My favourite wedding photo is this one:
I think I look pretty damn good in that. But I also think I look like me in a dress (and, for added geekery, a pair of Vibram Five Fingers).
What I am is all of these things, and it’s true of every other woman. We are all more than what we look like in our chosen form of dress. Someone might look at one of my triathlon photos and see nothing but an arse in lycra (and they do, believe me). Yet who I am is someone who can build her own wheels and would be quite capable of handling herself come the Undead Armageddon. I can sort out technical problems with our home network and have a strong view on component choice. I can spot a 5mm hex key at a distance of ten paces. I like computer games. I read and write and enjoy science-fiction. I have lived life and taken its knocks and it shows. I am all these things, and more, as well as someone capable of putting curves in green velvet.
I think it’s tragic that we are still prepared to judge accomplished women by what they look like. I think it’s unfair and annoying that women who are conventionally beautiful will tend to do better than women who aren’t; and that our media constantly chooses conventionally attractive women as every potential role model, thus propagating the idea that being good at what you do is not enough. I get angry when someone uses a woman’s desire to feel attractive in order to please herself as justification for looking at that aspect of her in isolation. And I become utterly livid when I’m told that it’s just boys being boys and only a bit of fun and I’m taking it too seriously.
Equality isn’t about treating everyone the same. It’s about looking at people for what they are in totality: the sum of their talents and abilities; their hopes and fears and passions.
I could never have been a supermodel. I am not a clear-skinned, fresh-faced, perfectly symmetric, youthful beauty. There are days when I am depressed by how I have been culturally indoctrinated into thinking my life could be better if I were. But if you were trying to get your playlists to synch to your mobile device before hitting the road when there was no petrol left and there were zombies in the garden, I’d be your huckleberry.
I have a couple of pictures for you today and not many words to go with them. The first is a photograph of a red squirrel. He was on a tree above the Falls at Acharn, which when we visited were frozen into a cascade of sharpened, jagged teeth and chaotic, amorphous, billowing pillows of sugary ice. I will post pictures of that when I’ve decided which are the best.
My mum thought this little chap was playing peek-a-boo around tree. To me he looked more like a celebrity fleeing the paparazzi, and I was lucky to get a shot of him at all. He was last seen scampering across a fallen tree under the bridge to escape our enthusiastically pointing fingers. The red squirrel is up there on the shortlist of Scotland’s iconic animals, along with the Highland Coo and the haggis. I’ve always assumed that Ratatoskr was a red.
This second picture I took on a horrible, grim, dreich day when the snow was starting to soften and melt. Frood was attempting to stack rocks on the shores of Loch Tay and grumbling about the soft schist and cold fingers. I was disappointed by the light and lack of things to photograph. And then I saw this:
I am not entirely sure what process caused this ice formation, with its fat drops hanging from the brittle, delicate sheet above. I could hazard some guesses and have pondered it at length. And yet, at the same time, I am content to have found a moment of startling and unexpected beauty and captured an echo of it as a souvenir.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, Christmas this year was spent on the south shore of Loch Tay, at Bracken Lodges. Frood and I were both working on Christmas Eve, as well as doing the Christmas dinner, so by the time we got home from work and got everything packed and into the car it was quite late.
It was also incredibly cold. And snowing. We’d had an early start on the back of a month of early starts, which, coupled with my insomnia, meant that I knew that the drive was going to be a tiring one before we started. I did seriously contemplate leaving it until the morning, but I knew Mum and Dad would be disappointed, so I HedTFU and got on with it.
Because the weather had been extremely wintry for several weeks the outer lane on the M90 was restricted width and there was no hard shoulder. The A9 wasn’t much better. There was too much snow. It was also -15°C, which is down around the point where grit stops working. I own a Ford Mondeo Estate, front wheel drive and back-end heavy, and it’s a pain in the ass in slippery conditions, so I was driving very carefully. The other issue we had is that the CD player in my car broke sometime last year, swallowing several of my CDs in the process. There is no MP3 player port so we’re reduced to listening to whatever we can find on the radio.
At the turn-off towards Aberfeldy we hit the roads that hadn’t been gritted adequately and, coincidentally, I became fed up with the interminable club dance tracks Scott Mills was playing on Radio 1. Classic FM was out because it was non-stop little boys singing carols, so I took a gamble on Radio 2 and found a fascinating documentary about Kenny Everett. For the next 45 minutes we minced along the road at about 20mph, discovering that Kenny did all of his special effects using just two tape decks — including the 8 part harmonies in which he was the only one singing. The world turned gradually more and more surreal as Captain Kremen’s Granny turned up and the snow kept falling.
Part of the route coincided with the road I’d ridden during the Aberfeldy Sprint, and I remarked that I’d been faster on the bike. That’s how carefully we had to drive.
At Kenmore we turned onto the narrow, single-track road that winds along the coast of the loch. By the time we got to the other side of Acharn I was really tired, and suffering from continually peering at a frosty road in low visibility with nothing but dark vegetation, the occasional dry stone wall and lots of snow either side of me. The road there was so slippy that I had to concentrate even harder on maintaining momentum over the ice without going so fast that the car slid out of control down the steep bank to the right and, for all I knew, straight into the water.
Frood had been using his GPS to track progress, but kept getting confused between distance to destination and distance to next junction, so I’d been given several conflicting miles to go messages. After what felt like the whole of eternity I asked Frood to call Mum and ask her if this place had a sign or something, because I was sure we’d missed it.
“Don’t worry,” he told me. “She says there’s a big blue Christmas tree right at the entrance and you can’t miss it.”
At about this moment a deer bounded across the path, eyeing us using that backwards glance they give things they don’t like but have ascertained aren’t really predators and couldn’t catch them anyway.
“Grand,” I replied, trying to get my heartrate back to normal after controlling a slight skid under braking.
Ten minutes later there was a dip in the road followed by a slight rise. As we crested this the deer was back and I couldn’t believe my eyes.
It had a blue arse. There was a deer, all delicate legs and waggly ears, looking at us backwards, and there was a bright, electric blue glow where its arse was.
I goggled at this like… Well, like you would imagine anyone goggling at a deer with blue light streaming out of its arse. I wondered what in the hell it had been eating.
After a moment the deer hung a sharp left but the blue light didn’t. There was the Christmas tree and there was my mum, standing at the side of the road waving her arms in the air.
I can’t remember the last time I was that relieved to arrive anywhere mostly intact. And, even knowing that what I saw was the light of the Christmas tree, what I remember and always will remember of our drive up north for Christmas is a deer with bright blue light coming out of its arse.
I spent Christmas and New Year with Frood and my parents — my brother and his girlfriend Candice joined us for New Year. Like last year, my parents had rented a place somewhere far away from work: this year it was on the south shore of Loch Tay, at Bracken Lodges, a little way along from Acharn. It was a beautiful setting, informed by mountains and water and, for most of it, thick drifts of snow and sheets of ice. I’ve brought back more than 200 photographs, and it’s going to take me some time to go through them all and choose the best ones.
This is one of my favourites so far:
2010 has been an interesting year, to use the word in the context that Pratchett used it in, if I recall correctly, Small Gods. It has gone incredibly quickly — it seems to be no time at all since we were sitting in the lodge at Erigmore for last year’s Christmas — and in some ways it has been one of the longest years ever. It has certainly had its ups and downs and it’s one I think I shall chalk up to experience rather than relishing in fond memory.
I’d like to think that 2011 will see an upward rather than a downward trend. For the time being I am going to consider that in life’s game of Play Your Cards Right 2010 is what happened when Mr Forsyth turned over the four of spades.
Onwards and upwards.
The thaw has come to Edinburgh, and what was a glorious, sparkly, clean landscape has turned muddy and rutted and ugly. It’s like the aftermath of trench warfare out there. I’ve been trying to retain my festive spirit by wrapping some presents today, and the weather forecast suggests that there might be another freeze coming next week. I hope so. I know it has caused a lot of bother to people, and it wasn’t always pleasant — especially when our heating broke down and it was -20°C out there — but I’ve enjoyed the cold weather. I’m not much of a summer person, I don’t like the heat. Summer is great if I have easy access to a nice beach and can spend all day spoffling crabs and sploshing around chasing sandeels. Otherwise it’s a case of hiding from the sun and trying not to burn to a crisp or dehydrate into old boot leather.
The other thing about the recent cold snap that I noticed was the quality of the light. With all that highly-reflective snow around everything looked crisper. It reminded me of the difference between DVD and Blu-Ray. Edges were neater, Fife was closer, seagulls were more graceful, the crows were bigger, the magpies shinier and the sunsets were glorious.
I took this picture coming back from the shop, one of a number of attempts to capture the fleeting softness of refracted light at sunset. It was a gamble, with the framing, and I think it paid off. The setting sun reflects gold in the windows of the neighbouring apartment building and the darkening eastern horizon is a beautiful rosy hue. The steel grey line to the left of centre is where the sky meets the North Sea.