Sunday, February 29, 2004

(Cloisters, St John’s college)

“Play” (an entry for )

Being in a play. At heart, I think I may be a performer. Probably a revelation to no-one but me (“So, you debate, act, blog and want to teach? A performer? Never!”)

But I really didn’t expect to wind up doing a second play this year. I thought my return to uni had to feature at least one play, but that was going to be it: the end of my board-treading. Who was I kidding?

I didn’t think I’d have time for it – but I am enjoying it immensely (despite the perils of morning rehearsals every Saturday). It’s a wonderful part of being a full time student again, having the chance to get in touch with half-neglected parts of yourself, like the 10-year dormant high-school student who was so terribly into drama.

Also doubling several roles in a farce is just marvellous, “The Golden Ass” is a really clever script – textually very clever, but just so entirely mad, especially by the time you reach the stories within stories within stories.

Having time to play. I like the fact that I feel, well, alive at the moment. I feel break-neck busy - which I suppose is the nature of short, intense, eight-week terms – but the work/lifestyle balance does not get much better than being a student again. Especially when, as a foreigner in Cambridge, you have so many excuses to play the tourist.

It’s great to have play-mates you like as well. My household just gets better and better: I like the dynamic we have, the conversations, the discussions. It’s really stimulating to be cooking dinner for friends while an Italian Sociologist and Irish International Relations student argue social and media theory with the odd interjection from a Canadian English literature PhD.

Geeky? Undoubtedly. But quite intoxicating.

Playing with ideas. It’s easily the best thing about being studying again is just being excited by ideas. At the end of the day, I’d study international law just because it interests me, but it doesn’t hurt that it’s so topical. Especially for conversations down the pub.

I had a gratifying moment with a pro-Iraq War medicine student on Friday. To strip our conversation right back, it boiled down to:

“But look,” he said, “the world’s better off without Hussein. So surely it was the right thing to do.”

Me: “That’s not my problem. My problem is that it’s not only a violation of the rule of law, it’s not even in America’s long-term interests. American supremacy has, what, fifty to seventy five years before China is the world super-power, right? So the question is what do you do in that time: do you play for short-term self-interest, or do you try and strengthen - and get everyone else to buy into - a stable rules-based system because it’s the only protection you’ll have when someone else is the sole global hegemon?”

“China? Yeah, of course. Why hasn’t anyone said that to me before? Damn,” waving his pint at other people at the table, “these international lawyers have it going on!”

Nice to feel appreciated.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

(Autumn punts, not winter rowers, on the river. Note to self: carry camera everywhere dammit.)

B is for “Bumps”

After rehearsal Saturday I wound up at the bumps.

While it sounds like a party where the entertainment is those sumo-suits, it’s another Cambridge tradition, marking the height of the rowing season.

Basically, the Cam’s a narrow strip of water, not wide enough for a couple of dozen college boats to line up at the one starting line. So there’s a staggered start, based on your ranking in the rowing competition to date (I think). To remove someone from the race you basically ram their boat from behind, and they have to pull over and sit it out.

Hence the term “bumps” (as opposed to “vicious battering”).

Despite the combative name, I think it’s far more common just to try and overtake than to bump.

Some qualifying Trinity Hall men’s and women’s crews were in late races at 4.00 and 4.30 so when I got out of rehearsal early I headed on out to the river. I had no idea where I had to go, just that it was up-river a long way, so glancing at a map, I took a (metaphorical) punt and cycled out along the Cam figuring it would be easy to tell when I was in the right place.

It was. I saw supporters in boat club jackets long before I saw anything else.

The whole thing made a strangely feudal impression on me.

The sound of oars being drawn up in rowlocks with a distinctly martial clack. The heraldic colours of the crew uniforms, that matched the painted undersides of the oar-blades as the sculls scud by. The boom of distant starting guns, somewhere beyond the river bend and flayed winter trees and hedgerows and bramble, the approaching racket and roar of supporters and coaches riding (sometimes slipping) through the riverside bike-track riven quagmire.

The unperturbed swans, ponderously wallowing in the shallows.

Standing a little back from the quick-moving riot, then pacing it with bike – I reflected that wars in the middle ages must have been a bit like this. All human flurry and colour: a packed, moiling movement that could be heard a little way off – but not very far off – and that could probably be safely observed from that same modest distance.

And then at the finish line by the Pike & Eel it would all be over: a dozen odd drifting sculls full of steam-panting ruddied rowers – the culmination of months of pre-dawn mornings braving the freezing waters of the Cam.

I was briefly stirred by the spectacle, but not enough to face that kind of training schedule. (At 10.15 am Saturday morning, I was running late for rehearsal and couldn’t even find where I had to be. The rehearsal was being held in my own college, in a room where I’ve served drinks ...)

The spectators were less practically attired than the rowers. Where the towpath ran out into fields, as mentioned, bikes had churned up a sort of battle of the Somme environment (cow paddock fences added the barbed wire). A lot of people, women especially, were in white fashion sneakers with jeans that hung down to level with the soles of their shoes.

It was an interesting demonstration of capillary action in cotton, the height to which mud had scaled people’s calves.

Not that I can talk. Taking a lady’s racing bike cross-country over mud-churned cow paddocks is probably not in the manufacturer’s recommendations. Cycling a field’s also not necessarily a whole heap better for your jeans and shoes than walking either …

In another interesting display of tradition, the winners in the women’s race got to do a victory lap with laurel in their hair.

(Or what I hope was laurel.)

They drubbed the side of their boat in encouragement to their men’s team as it cruised by to position.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

(Gonville and Caius, S Staircase)

S is for schoolmates and snow at St Mary's

“Is everyone from your high school in Cambridge?”

I’ve had the question more than once of late. Last Friday night I was definitely the under-achiever. I went for drinks at the Eagle with four other guys from my little Canberra high school. Two post docs (physics and IT) and a PhD candidate (early modern English Lit with something of a focus on Milton) and me (a mere Masters student) are Friday night regulars.

We were joined by someone who was in Cambridge for an interview for a tenure track lectureship position.

Having just finished his economics doctorate at Harvard.

As you do.

Monday I had a visitor, another high school friend (and second cousin, once removed, as near as we can work out). It was cool showing someone else Cambridge: though the pretty bits can be covered in well under four hours walking. It was good to have an excuse to wander up to the top of St Mary’s tower and take some aerial shots though (see “a new set” over at the photo album).

It was a mildly “The Crow” moment, being at the top of a church tower, accompanied by a thin man in a long leather overcoat and a lot of black (including knee-high, lace-up Docs), being mildly snowed upon.

Yes, it’s snowing again of an evening. Not enough to take photos of yet, though, dammit.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Naylor Day

The new instalment of Naylor is up for the week.

Bruised and shaken, Elliot heads home for some clean clothes, and discovers his situation is worse than he had realised ...

I've had a lot of old school friends in town recently, so expect a blast-from-the-past post later in the week (and more photos, of course).

Sunday, February 22, 2004

(Me, talking law stuff)

Ar har me hearties!

How many lawyers does it take to get a laptop to speak to a projector? Well, I still don’t know because after more than 30 minutes of struggle me and my seminar-presentation minder gave up (after helpful advice from the Manciple and another guy from the Butler’s office) and called in the guys from the college IT office.

It took them around 30 seconds to drag my laptop under a light and tell me to press Fn + F8.

“Oh,” said I. “You mean that ‘LCD’ key has something to do with the picture display?”

Thankfully, my minder had suggested we start getting ready at 5 for at talk at 6.15. Factoring in a generous margin to cover one’s own ineptitude seldom goes astray.

So anyway, that’s me giving my seminar (“Containing Weapons of Mass Destruction: the US, North Korea and International Law”) on Wednesday in the Master’s lodge. My talk was basically about when you can stop a ship in international waters and confiscate its cargo, if that cargo contains WMD.

(The very short answer, in my opinion, is only when you are engaged in an armed conflict and the weapons are destined for your adversary - thus WMD bound for al Qaeda could be intercepted if the “war on terror” is actually a war not a metaphor, but there is no general right to seize WMD regardless of who they are being shipped to as an act of “pre-emptive” self-defence.)

I think I was successful in pitching it at a mixed audience of lawyers and non-lawyers, and I left the pirate joke in. It seemed to go rather well and drew a number of people from outside the college, including a few South Koreans and international relations students. Around 30 people in total, which was great.

A number of non-lawyers said they thought I was laid out a clear argument and spoke confidently and engagingly. A couple of law-types present said if I wanted to be a teaching academic I was clearly up to it – all of which was great to hear. I certainly had fun, and was happy that the Q&A session was pretty lively and people came up with some interesting legal and common-sense questions.

(My favorite: “If what your saying is right, and international law gives those involved in armed conflicts the power to seize contraband weapons destined for the enemy – does your argument mean, hypothetically, that an al Qaeda navy could legally intercept weapons being shipped to the United States?”)

I got to take a guest to the grad hall dinner afterwards and also got a nice bottle of wine for my troubles - a 1992 Bordeaux from the college cellars, certainly better than anything I could afford. It was also a good night to take a guest: pumpkin, prawn and coconut cream soup to start, quail for main, lychee ice for dessert.

A number of the Aussie LLMs said they would have liked to have come, but I was competing with the Paul Kelly concert in London. Unsurprisingly, international law didn’t quite have the same pulling power.

Still, I get to give the talk again on Monday to the Gates Scholars as a ring-in speaker for an international law colloquium. Should be fun.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Things yoga teachers say …

I think I am still feeling really lethargic after the amazingly taxing yoga session Tuesday. Sort of a 24 hour delayed reaction thing.

Anyway, while we’re straining away in downward dog, waiting for the endorphins to kick in, our instructor is a real talker. Great guy, but a big talker.

“Get your weight back over your hips, fall forward like a waterfall.”

Me: Yeah, waterfall, right.

“Gravity is your friend.”

Me: Uh huh, the rush of blood to my head is going to really help block out the pain any moment now.

“You can’t do yoga without gravity. It’s utterly essential. There could not be yoga in outer space.”

Me: Um, what?

“You need gravity most of all.”

Me: What I need is steel-reinforced sockets for my goddamn arms.

“Well, you also need a mind obviously. And a body.”

Me: No, I really don’t need my body right about now, not with this blistering pain arching through my wrists and arms and shoulders and … and … ooh, endorphins, now my spine feels all stretchy and spready.

“And trousers. You need trousers.”

However, the best single line delivered in my hearing recently was a reason for not going into a loud party in a college bar late on Wednesday.

“It smells like undergraduates.”

This, mind you, from ten metres outside its closed doors.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

(Mill Road cemetary)

Grad Halls and Seminars

So, last Wednesday was grad hall as usual. I went to the seminar beforehand, being given by a friend on the interaction between human rights and international trade law – particularly looking at the implications for access to water in developing countries. Pretty thought-provoking and even inspiring stuff.

He also had much more professional looking power-point slides than mine dammit.

Not sure how interdicting North Korean weapons of mass destruction on the high seas is going to cut it against that competition.

Dammit. I’m just going to have to put back in the sub-heading: “The law of piracy: AR HAR ME HEARTIES!”

I took a guest to the dinner for the first time last Wednesday: a PhD student friend from one of the newer (i.e. twentieth century) colleges, he really liked our narrow, portrait-hung dining hall. He caught a good meal too: melon starter, fish, apple strudel. Hard to go wrong or get terribly creative with that menu.

Where I went wrong was the discount Hungarian cab sav I picked up during the week. It was astonishing: it had no flavor at all, just a faint metallic aftertaste. I think I’m going to have to double what I spend on a bottle of wine, but just buy it half as often.

Thursday I should really have knocked over revising my own seminar notes, but got too little work done (when at four o’clock you decide to go take photos in the local cemetery and rifle through a second-hand book store, you have problems) and went to see “Out of Order” at the ADC, catching the little-known sport of Irish bicycle tossing on the way back.

So now I now I need to finish my seminar presentation for tomorrow. I did re-work it extensively today and practice the intro a few times. I’m hoping it should run fairly smoothly.

It’s a useful exercise to take your thesis idea, strip it down and try and make a comprehensible and (hopefully) interesting presentation for non-lawyers.

Feeling a bit blessed out to get much more done tonight though: yoga this evening was amazing. I’ve finally found a class that really works for me in Cambridge. It’s twenty minutes each way from home, but pretty close to the law school. As I was working from home today, though I got an extra forty minutes exercise into the bargain.

I’m really warming to our instructor’s eccentricities, but more about that tomorrow.

Time to go tidy up slides about pirates and weapons of mass destruction before I pop down to “The Lawyer” for an end-of-evening pint.

Monday, February 16, 2004

Naylor Day

The new instalment of crime fiction is up for the week. It’s longer than usual to compensate for my recent erratic output. It’s safe to say Elliot’s day takes a significant turn for the worse …

New Naylor also went up last week (just in case you read Naylor and missed it).

For those curious about the idea of someone writing a serial novel in a parallel blog, the first instalment is over here.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

(An office in the Botanic Garden greenhouses)

Picture this ... (an entry for )

For Blogger idol visitors, welcome.

I didn’t set out to put up a photoblog or become an on-line diarist, but this little law and witticism site has rapidly become the written and visual record of my year in Cambridge.

I've moved from borrowing the photos of others, to having friends host my photos, to finally having the technical nouse to decorate entries with them more or less at will.

I now waste far too much time editing photos for later use on the site, there should be a few new ones each week.

So picture any of these, if you will:

Gonville and Caius College;

Lisa's photo of Trinity Chapel and St John’s College gate;

The courtyard outside my college library;

My favourite photo from my time in Singapore; and, of course -

If you scroll down the page, some of my favourite photos from the recent three days of snow in Cambridge.

More of my photos live over here.

In wordy matters, well, just picture me: clasping a towel and chicken sandwich, locked out of my house on my first night in town; intimidated out of my wits at a "casual" function in a set of rooms with a history; or dealing with the Hogwarts-esque bureacracy of getting ready to leave and come here.

I'm having a ball, am grateful to be here, and hope the site proves entertaining to others.

Now, if only my friends would stop leaving scandalous comments. My sponsor organisation and a few former employers read this dang thing, too ...

(The Bun Shop, Cambridge: in case of emergency, detach bike.)

Friday the 13th and Valentine’s Day: a low key combination

Saturday morning rehearsals are not getting any easier. Send me your halt, your lame, your under-slept night-owls, your hungover, your chronically tardy.

That’s pretty much the state of most of us come “Golden Ass” rehearsals at 10 am Saturday. On the upside play rehearsals are now being held in a regular venue at my college, so it’s easy to duck across the graduate common room and make coffee. I made one for the director this week, which was probably sucking-up, but I may have lost the brownie points coming back late from lunch.

(The downside is it’s the lecture hall where Junior Common Room Friday bops are held. The floor was disgustingly sticky with spilt beer and god-knows-what this week. Walking across the “stage” was accompanied by suction cup noises at every step. The chalkboard also bore the ledgend: “The Asolutely Bad Taste Party”, but the top line seemed to read “Absolut Ely” – vodka straight from an old cathedral town, perhaps? There was also some disturbing ... blood splatter ... in the gent's toilet. So the reason I don't go to JCR parties.)

By lunchtime we’re usually all in pretty good form: the buzz of rehearsals, the ravenous stabbing pangs of hunger. I’ve become obsessed with the full English breakfast at the Bun Shop pub on King’s Street behind Christ’s College. Five pounds for a huge plate of back, eggs, beans, sausage, mushroom and chips or hash browns. Mmmm … cholesterol.

Friday I had also been at the Bun Shop, drinking with the Friday pub alliance – which was a bit like returning to the scene of the crime I suppose. I wandered through Friday oblivious to it being the 13th and had a singularly pleasant day. Nothing untoward at all.

Okay, the May Ball I wanted to go to sold out - but hell, there are others. Other than that, little of note. Attended class, went to a talk, had a coffee, completed a scholarship application. Drank three pints, smoked cigar, went to party.
Typical day really. Other than the cigar. Don’t know how that happened at all.

Oh yes, last night I also went to see a friend from the Albert’s Bridge cast’s first stab at directing. It was a college production of Alan Ayckbourn’s “Comic Potential”, a terribly funny, clever script that was pulled off really well by the cast and in a small venue. The play itself features a “near-future” in which TV actors have been replaced by emotionless “actoid” androids – except one begins to develop an independent sense of humor, and becomes involved with a comedy script writer. Like most good science fiction, it was basically an allegory about human nature. None of which makes it sound as funny as it was.

Of course, some would say we don’t have to wait for the near future for the comic-misadventures of synthetic actors and their love-lives to become national entertainment …

Thursday, February 12, 2004

(The Age: Esplenade hotel, Melbourne.)

Melbourne nostalgia

It’s funny, the place I get most nostalgic for in Australia is Melbourne, a town where I lived for only 10 months.

The Age’s “My Melbourne” photos aren’t helping, but it was delightful to receive a postcard view of Flinder’s Street Station from Daniel. (Anyone else wanting to send me postcards from home is welcome - e-mail me if you don't have my address.)

I guess I miss my Melbourne hang-outs as much as anything.

The casual grunge-chic of pubs, the seventies lounge-room retro-flair of the Comfortable Chair on upper Lygon Street, the Toblerone cocktails at Kelvin in Northcote. I miss the wine bars. Pubs are fun, but generally it seems like that's all there is over here – with the honourable exception of La Razza, which with entry by a narrow stairway, low couches, and live jazz on a Wednesday is everything I like in a bar.

Even the sticky humidity of heat-wave summer and the long, lazy horizontal sunlight of the late afternoon holds a certain charm at this distance. That said, there’s less difference in the winter weather than one might expect. OK, the snow was very exciting, but largely the winter has been much less cold than I was expecting, really.

And perhaps not such a contrast to Melbourne, when you think about it. Also, I was never this warm or comfortable indoors in Melbourne. The Brits have discovered central heating and taken to it with a mighty vengeance of which I whole heartedly approve. (Other than the fact I like sleeping under a doonah – duvet for the English – but get horribly dehydrated if I do so here, even with the heating in my room ostensibly switched to zero.)

Obviously, there are some similarities. Umm ... let's see, both have a sluggish river and people wearing striped team-colour (OK, college-colour) scarves here.

Rather shamefully for a Bulldogs supporter, my college scarf is Collingwood white and black.

Will I dare wear it in public back home?

PS: just when you think you've seen everything

Cycling home from my first encounter with undergraduate on-stage nudity (not sure I'd be prepared to drop my towel while leaving the stage in the name of art at the Amatuer Dramatic Club theatre, but that's just me) I cycled past Sidney Sussex college and encountered a couple of Irish guys engaged in bicycle tossing.

Seriously, they were throwing it into the air (repeated) to see if they could make it come down facing the other side up.

Note to self: always chain your bike to a railing.

(Parker’s piece on a snowy morning.)

Ooops … I really have to start writing this before 1 am

A number of people have written on the obvious theme of embarrassment for Blogger Idol.

Most people, I suppose, fear embarrassment of the kind that makes one’s life one hideous montage of shame and humiliation. For my part, I mostly seem to fear administrative inefficiency, or those moments when things just don’t work. The sense that someone might be watching me struggle to do something any chimp should be able to handle.

You know, like being caught pulling like mad on a push door.

Like setting off metal detectors. Or Tuesdays in an office job when nothing works quite right. Begging and whimpering to college porters for a key that will actually let you back into your house. Not reading your supervisor’s book before turning in a chunk of draft dissertation on the exact same topic.

That sort of stuff.

The moment in my day I feel most vulnerable is getting ready to cycle to law school, or organising myself at the other end. It’s a complex ritual containing many little battles to be fought with the tyranny of the inanimate. Before leaving the house I don helmet, cycling clips, gloves jacket and scarf. Simple.

I then remove my jacket and sling my scarf over my shoulder again, and replace my jacket, thus trapping half said scarf under my outer layer of clothes so it doesn’t unwind on the 15 minute trip to the faculty. I go outside to my bike, and wind up removing my gloves - again, so I can actually find my keys and unlock the bike.

I then usually realise I’ve forgotten something and go back indoors.

If I’m wearing too many layers, I’ll get to law school hot and bothered and will remove several while I chain my bike up so I can cool down.

Chain bike up.

Unlock bike again, finally remember to remove helmet, pass bike lock through helmet straps, chain bike and helmet in place.

Put back on jumper and jacket removed while cooling down.

At night, adding or subtracting lights from my bike adds another level of complexity – the number of times I get moving only to emergency brake and turn my rear light on, or move it where it can be seen is staggering. (I’ve a basket in back which, when full, means it can’t be seen at all.)

Also, my clips seem to slip off cord trousers, leaving my cuffs to flap merrily in the breeze and play with the bike chain.

Nice cuffs, you have fun down there, doing your thing.

This is so why I now only wear black pants while cycling.

All up, it probably takes me as long to stop or start moving as the trip itself.

I also need to get my blogging back on track. Unfortunately, my social life at present seems to be curving up in direct proportion to the amount of work to be done – the give in the equation coming out of sleeping hours. Damn.

Oh well, at least Naylor is up for the week. (Yes, the crime novel hasn't stalled completely yet ...)

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Sunday morning comes early
(or, a lad’s pad no longer)

The curse is lifted, the sun shines once more on our happy vale.

OK, I exaggerate – but we’ve finally replaced the top-room flatmate (the odd mathematician who departed rather spectacularly at the end of last term) and my favourite Italian, the good sociologist, returned from a week in Milan yesterday as well.

Now, while we have never been a larger-can and dirty-socks-on-the-floor kind of house, we have been a house of five or six men for some time. I think we’ve made an effort not to let standards slip for this very reason. We also have, most useful of things, a kitchen cleanliness freak and of course, five visits a week from a bedder, dubbed by my Greek and Italian flatmates “Santa Martha”. She’s fabulously sweet to us, and thinks we’re very tidy and considerate.

(I still cannot believe how rapidly my egalitarian embarrassment at have a cleaner come in so often has evaporated in the face of sheer convenience.)

Anyway, with the latest addition to our “garret” room (standing upright in some corners of it is rather tricky), we finally have a full-time female resident. (A fellow committee member and a South African, just to add to our household’s UN flavour.) We also have a flatmate’s girlfriend visiting from Greece. The change in atmosphere is subtle, but evident. Between a visitor and a new flatmate, and the sudden presence of two women, everyone is making a real effort to be polite and welcoming.

(The amiable trading of insults in three languages will break out again soon, though, I’m sure.)

And most delightful of all, everyone woke up between ten and eleven this morning and wandered down to the kitchen and lounge room. With everyone milling around in track suits and PJs, making cereal and coffee and swapping stories and jokes it really felt like – well – family, or a relaxed Sunday morning.

Even the elusive downstairs lawyer popped his head in (he’s friendly, but he’s normally only at home to sleep, shower and change clothes).

Fabulous way to start the morning.

If only I weren’t now psychologically convinced it’s Sunday. How can I work under these conditions?

Slightly alarming

Yes, I know I’ve been a bit quiet.

Things keep creeping up on me. (And I’ve had a bit of a cold.)

Most notable thing to creep up on me today? The realisation that a seminar in college I’d volunteered to present at date that seemed comfortably removed from the here and now has suddenly become rather closer.

I am giving a 20 to 30 minute dry-run presentation, as it were, of my dissertation before next week’s Wednesday formal hall. Shame I'd not done any specific preparation before today - other than a title.

“Containing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction: North Korea, the US and international law”.

Catchy, non? Not at all a sweeping terrain to cover for a mixed audience of lawyers and non-lawyers.

Fortunately my ideas are fairly clear in my head, and I’ve just sat up and put together a 16 slide power-point presentation. (No more than four bullets to a slide, no bullet more than three lines long, and all white text on a blue background – which I thought rather nice for UN law.)

The animation is done, the spelling checked. I could probably give the speech now if I had to.

Me, obsessive? Never.

Thank god I have no fear of public speaking. And I do get a decent bottle of wine and I and a guest diner free for my pains.

Time for sleep now, methinks.

Thursday, February 5, 2004

(The snowman is also not feeling at his best. Click him for more pictures.)

Tips for the novice writer of a master’s thesis (no. 2)

It is not that I am unused to wine.

I cannot plead that as an excuse.

Note to self: when going to a grad hall and having no particular plans to sit with anyone, taking wine may be sociable, but may lead to finishing the bottle almost unaided if on one side you have people already well-stocked with vino and on the other, people who aren’t drinking.

Do not consider it your patriotic duty to finish it off simply because it is South Australian (Banrock Station wines having been available for 3 for 10 pounds at the local supermarket).

This could lead to distinct feelings of ... lethargy ... the next morning. Being, of course, the Thursday morning you have to go and see your supervisor about that draft.

There are seven delightful words a supervisor can utter to someone in this state, pushing your draft (complete with tatty brown envelope) back across the desk:

“Well, I think this is going well.”

Ah, one thinks, brain, you can now turn off for the day.

Until I went and made a rash promise to have a good draft and final reading list within three weeks. Oh, well, apparently I'm ahead of the game.

Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Last Wednesday's blizzard at college, as captured by my friend Kaila (click image for more), my photos are over here.

Recent viewing

Going to films is a good way of visiting other colleges.

One of my new year’s resolutions was to make more use of the college film groups. They’re a nice example of the Cambridge philosophy of competitive individualism. While the ANU had one, huge film group, Cambridge has a proliferation of them on a college-by-college basis and market forces seem to have set a flat price of two pounds a screening.

Other than a cheap night at the movies, it’s a good excuse for wandering around other (often bigger, richer) colleges at night. My favourite “other” college so far is St John’s, possibly the archetypal Cambridge college. It has a procession of three courts (imaginatively titled first, second, and third) leading to the knock-off Bridge of Sighs that crosses the Cam into some Gothic cloisters, which lead up towards the new buildings closer to Castle Hill. The size and age of the place seems perfect: big enough to cross the river, but with no individual courtyard as big as the windswept, dwarfing, institutional expanse of Trinity’s Great Court.

The view from the Bridge of Sighs at night is dazzling, but would photograph rather poorly.

Films, then:

Thursday two weeks ago was “Confidence”. I love a crime flick, and they can be great vehicles for one-role big-name actors (I first warmed to George Clooney in “Ocean’s Eleven”). The cardboard cut-out, chisel-chinne Ben Affleck works well in a confidence scam film. A good film noir anti-hero is not meant to display emotion. The fact that Affleck is incapable of it made for inspired casting. Dustin Hoffman as an ADHD suffering gangland boss (“it’s the H that’s important – attention deficit, hyperactivity disorder”) was fabulous. The keep-you-guessing plot wasn’t the best I’ve ever seen, but it was slick enough.

Thursday last week was my first time seeing “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”: Hepburn is, of course, luminescent. I hadn’t realised it was directed by Blake Edwards of “Pink Panther” fame and the matter-of-fact morality of the kept-man male lead and rich-husband-hunting Holly Golightly leant it a tough worldliness that was somehow – charming. Wonderfully scripted.

Sunday was “Intolerable Cruelty”: one of the most enjoyable lawyer-joke films in a while. The decrepit senior partner, living in a darkened Dickensian office, without intestines, on life support; the utterly strategic lawyers (“She’s financially exposed, there’s no need to kill her! And I love her, that’s two reasons not to!”); the concept of a signed pre-nuptial agreement as the ultimate expression of trust; and a wedding in Vegas where I find myself muttering, “There has to be a jurisdictional issue here …” – all recognisable law stereotypes, if obviously not intended as realistic. There were some bitter lawyers who leant a hand to this script, I tell ye. Despite the participation of Clooney and That Awful Woman, a thoroughly enjoyable romp.

Okay, I did grimace once. Anyone who that clearly lost the plot at a professional conference and denounced law in favour of love, in my limited experience, would probably be politely ignored until they had the good grace to slink away and never be spoken of again.

They would not get a standing ovation.


Even if they were the ineffably smug George Clooney.

Tuesday, February 3, 2004

A cold day in Cambridge

Right, the snow. It began Tuesday night, big fluffy, surprisingly un-wet flakes.

Cycling back from the theatre, it completely filled the "windward" side air vents of my helmet (see below).

It was quite amazing – snowfalls over two nights, and a third day before everything thawed. (Some fairly nasty wind during the period as well.)

The first morning was the most eye-popping. I was late to class because I just kept stopping to take photos. “Hello snowman with carrot nose!”

“Hello Parker’s Piece covered in snow!”

That sort of thing. I quickly learned that cycling worked best on snow that was still powdery and soft – anything already compacted by passing vehicles had the traction of wet glass. That said, the gritting of the main roads was pretty effective – I could still cycle most places, it just took longer.

Traffic, however, at peak hour ground to a total halt, the only way to get anywhere was on a bike. I would have tried out my new leather-soled shoes for the Burn’s night formal dinner – but it seemed rather too slippery in the un-gritted cobbled lanes around college. (One guy who usually wears leather soles slipped over seven times, until he swapped to his football boots and trod everywhere on studs.)

The worst day was the second – all compacted snow and thawed water re-frozen into treacherous black ice. I still managed three days of cycling most places without any accidents – sticking to the gritted roads helped, but some of the cobbled paths and ungritted bridges were a bit scary.

Still, number of us crazy foreigners kept cycling. As a German friend said: "Oh yes, I cycled - no, let me say - I glided home." No sudden breaking and it's all fine.

Have some more photos up over here, under "Winter".

Monday, February 2, 2004

(Cambridge snow photo courtesy of Lisa.)

Tips for the novice writer of a master’s thesis

(1) Strongly consider reading your supervisor’s book, which is directly relevant a chunk of your topic, before drafting that part of your paper;

(2) when quoting a large, convoluted chunk of argument and re-typing it into your document, think about scanning the passage in at the library – this will stop double-negatives becoming single negatives, thus totally inverting the quote’s meaning;

(3) do not read the quote-with-inverted-meaning, think “that’s a bit funny, it reads like saying white is black” and instead of checking the quote, conclude “oh well, they are the International Court of Justice, they probably know that white really is black” and proceed to merrily write an extended analysis of the passage;

(4) if foolish enough to complete step (3), do not compose an e-mail to your supervisor, attach the draft and hit “send” before checking all the quotes;

(5) if attempting to avoid hyperventilation, do not chose this moment to read your supervisor’s book on the law of the use of force under the UN Charter, and do not then attempt to reassure your (misguided) self by checking her book against the textbooks written by the Old Gods of international law – discovering they all footnote to her book will only create a heightened sensation of tension, if not panic;

(6) complete hyperventilation – check e-mail, and discover she will not be able to read the white-is-black draft before the weekend;

(7) do at this point e-mail and ask if you can get a new draft with some corrections to her Friday morning – but do try and stifle your bleats of joy when you get an affirmative answer, conditional on delivering a hard copy before Friday lunch to the porter’s lodge at her college;

(8) do not, rather cryptically, when you accidentally bump into her in the law library mid-re-drafting-frenzy, confess that you wanted a chance to re-write it to “correct an overly creative interpretation of the Nicaragua Case and avoid looking like a complete lemming”;

(9) do spend a moment wondering why you thought “lemming” sounded like amusing British slang, and resolve to live a life less influenced by Richard Curtis films; and

(10) finally, do risk life and limb to cycle across snow and black ice, skid across a college forecourt and jam a draft (packaged in a crumpled, pre-loved brown paper envelope) into said supervisor’s pigeonhole, before allowing a porter to point out that the names on the pidgeon holes are positioned over, and not under, the relevant slot (allow friendly porter to reposition tatty envelope accordingly).

(Some accuracy may have been sacrificed for comic potential. Tomorrow – snow tales!)

Sunday, February 1, 2004

A day in the life … (Blogger Idol, week 3)

… of my lunchbox

The one missing habit on that list of the seven allegedly possessed by highly effective people is remembering to take a packed lunch. It’s without doubt the only genuinely effective life habit I have ever formed and underpins many of my modest successes.

I ALWAYS have a lunch box.

It almost always begins the day holding: one ham or turkey sandwich (lettuce, cheese), two muesli bars, one Mars bar, one apple, one banana. A full water bottle is also a must.

Partially, I’m a cheapskate. Do the maths, $5 (or pounds) per lunch and drink time 5 lunches a week: that's $25 a week or $1,250 a year.

I also have a hummingbird metabolism and tend to fall over twitching if I don’t snack every hour, on the hour. (This explains the relationship of my lunchbox to my achievements. Occupying ground, twitching, is a poor fulfilment of most job descriptions - other than being a cricket pitch tarpaulin in a moderate breeze.)

But mostly, it’s the cheapskate thing. Which as a person recently returned to relative student poverty from relative wage-slave affluence, is not at all bad.

Especially when one has significant new expenses. Such as beer by the pint and textbooks (though perhaps mostly the beer thing).

At law school, several people referred to mine as a “magic lunchbox”, which I found a trifle demeaning - really. It’s quite a logistical effort to keep a fridge stocked with both bread and sandwich fillings. Let alone a cupboard of fruit and snacks. It just doesn’t happen on it’s own.

While my present tupperware container does the job just fine (ie it keeps crumbs in and notebooks out, and sometimes it even keeps crumbs out of the notebook computer), I was sorry to leave behind in Australia my large tin Batman lunchbox. It was nine-tenths of my cred as a commercial solicitor. It got me known as "eccentric" and "quirky".

(It was a law firm. It doesn't take much.)

PS For regular readers, yes, the thesis-draft thing went (eventually) fine. The snow was fun. Uni film groups (a New Year’s resolution) are great. Play rehearsals proceed. Each of these is an adventure unto itself I (and lunchbox) hope to unfold over the week.