Monday, March 29, 2004

Dublin (and photos)

Dublin, city of pubs, pedestrian bridges and a four-meter monument to an orator, politician or writer on every corner.

If, indeed, you can no longer see a six-foot plinth surmounted by a six-foot bronze national figure, or a pub, you are probably in a cow-field deep in county Meath.

Also, in a variant on the old game of tacking words onto the end of fortune-cookie fortunes, some things sound better with the worlds "in Dublin" added.

Such as -

Dancing badly to an Irish accented Abba cover band ... in Dublin.

Sitting in a smoke-filled local pub talking to American geneticists on their night off ... in Dublin.

Giggling at the wit of Oscar Wilde ... in Dublin.

Browsing a teeny book-market ... in Dublin.

Buying a M&S shirt you could just as easily have bought at home ... in Dublin.

Yup, the commonplace is never more entertaining than it is on holiday.

I had a pleasant three days on the ground, wandering about looking at things and two nights pub-crawling the town on two rather different organised outings.

The literary pub-crawl on Thursday drew an older crowd, other than me it seemed thirty – retirement, but was a good deal of fun. Two actors lead you around four pubs, not necessarily the watering holes of literary notables (one I believe was simply the closest surviving pub to the former pub where Michael Collins met with spies returning from the government offices at Dublin Castle) – but what they did add was a dash of history and four acted scenes of street theatre from the work of Dublin greats, opening with Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”.

The backpacker’s pub crawl Friday drew a predictably younger crowd, and zoomed through half a dozen night spots including a rather nifty, airy Japanese-themed cocktail bar Sosume and the art nouveau wonderland Café en Seine (pronounced “café insane” by locals). Café en Seine seems to have a local reputation as a hang-out for the uber-trendy and cooler-than-you crowd, but on a less busy night it would have been amazing for a quiet drink: three stories, chandeliers, enormous mirrors, prints of nineteenth century Paris cabaret poster-art everywhere, rather like wandering into the set of Moulin Rouge and drinking with suits but still very pleasant.

Met a lot of Americans and Canadians both nights. (And reflected that the night-life I like invariably reminds me of life in Melbourne ... )

I did find the writer's museum and the James Joyce house faintly dissapointing - thought it must be a bit of a struggle to make an "exciting" musuem for people with essentially inward lives (here is a typewriter, it was owned by someone famous).

Still, I also liked the little markets scattered through Temple Bar on a Saturday (especially the small food market) and the Guiness Storehouse museum/exhibition centre was surprisingly entertaining and brilliantly designed. (The free pint at the end in one of the best look-out points in Dublin didn’t hurt.)

I got the impression it would be somewhere I could live happily for a year or two, though flat rental in the inner city did not look at all cheap.

It was the fulcrum of my week of travel: three days in Dublin through to Saturday, then I spent Sunday in London for the 150th Oxford vs Cambridge boat race on the Thames, we have people round to dinner tonight and three days in Berlin starting tomorrow.

And I’m excited about everything. Other than the 4 am start (again!) tomorrow.

PS The Boat Race

So yesterday I went to see the Cambridge/Oxford boat race on the Thames (the 150th individual race, and 175th anniversary of The Race). Through the kindness of others, I was invited on a friend-of-a-friend basis to watch the race simultaneously on the teev and out the window of a house with views over the river near Barnes Bridge.

Bit odd to find myself in a house full of Shakespeare academics, but great fun.

After some astonishing oar clashes (the boats so close they looked like two parts of a fighting zipper), Cambridge won by an astonishing four boat lengths (having lost last year by 12 inches), and the Oxford cox did not take it well. In a bit of a blow for the concept of sportsmanship he managed to spend some quite time talking to the cameras about how Cambridge should have been fouled for cutting in on the Oxford boat, disputing the umpire’s decision and then congratulating Cambridge, “much as it sticks in my throat”.

Ah, ancient rivalries.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

(View over Caius college to Trinity Great Court and St John's Chapel)

That bastard Hegel: prising my fingers from the window-ledge of sanity

History and Theory of International Law has been fun, if mind-bending, to study. That does not mean the exam scares me any the less. Particularly when I am trying to revise Hegel for my little discussion group.

Hegel is now officially my new foe in the battle for sanity. (Three rounds in and he's still ahead on points, the wiley old codger.)

With quotes like these to decipher, who needs psychosis?

From my notes for circulation to my fellow-sufferers:

Hegel, G W F, Philosophy of Right (1821)

The state must be more than the mere coming together of individuals to protect their individual rights. The state is the “objective” (communal?) mind and personality of a society. As human beings long to become part of the universal, it is only within the state that they can exist as part of a “universal life”:
“If the state is confused with civil society, and if its specific end is laid down as the security and protection of property and personal freedom, then the interest of the individuals as such becomes the ultimate end of their association, and it follows that membership of the state is something optional … Since the state is mind objectified, it is only as one of its members that an individual himself has objectivity, genuine individuality, and an ethical life. Unification pure and simple is the true content and aim of the individual, and the individual’s destiny is the living of a universal life.”

The function of law is to universalise individual behaviour:
“Rationality, taken generally and in the abstract, consists in the thorough-going unity of the universal and the single [ie the particular]. Rationality, concrete in the state, consists (a) so far as its content is concerned, in the unity of objective freedom (ie freedom of the universal [rational] or substantial will) and subjective freedom (ie freedom of everyone in his knowing and in his volition of particular ends); and consequently, (b) so far as its form is concerned, in self-determining action on laws and principles which are thoughts and so universal. This Idea is the absolutely eternal and necessary being of mind.”

While, even for German philosophy, this may seem opaque, I think it boils down to this: law mediates the relationship between individual volition (in the sense of both desire and will) and the objective will of the state (being the rational mind of an entire community) – with the result that by being law-abiding the (otherwise selfish) actions and purposes of the individual citizen are harmonised with those of the state. To live lawfully is to give expression to the universal mind of the state and thus to be universalised.

Far be it from me to suggest it would take a nineteenth century Prussian to think that this is inherently a good thing.


Roll on Dublin I say, head-cold or no.

It’s a 4 am start tomorrow, and I’m betting on it being a cold walk to the train station … see you all next week.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

More conversations from the kitchen

Most people will be shocked and astonished to hear that in a house of five men and one (attached) woman, we occasionally discuss women. Or, as the Europeans here (like PJ Harvey) have been known to phrase it, “beautiful girls”.

Shocking, I know. And astonishing.

This morning, breakfast conversation ran something like this.

Greek mathematician: “My friend. How are you?”

Me (joking): “Throat’s still a bit sore, but I don’t mind the sexy voice. Now I just need to find a woman who likes a deep voice and doesn’t mind catching cold.”

GM (looking at my jeans and hooded blue jumper): “You should also not wash these clothes for a few days. So you smell.”

Me: “Um … ”

GM: “And get some of the black stuff from the bicycles.”

Me: “Grease.”

GM: “Yes, grease. Get a little of it on your hands and face.”

Me (comprehension dawning): “And let my beard grow out to around the two-day point. Not as bad as when I went to London, but stubbly.”

GM: “Yes. Like you worked as a mechanic.”

Me: “Because Cambridge would be the one town where if I couldn’t pass for mechanic-sexy, I might just manage bicycle-mechanic sexy.”

The Greek mathematician laughed, I washed out my porridge bowl. I wondered who really is the most mad person in this house.

I still suspect I’m the front-runner.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Random randomness

Booked a lot of travel last week.

So I am going to Dublin on my lonesome for two nights/three days on Thursday, just because I could get there and back for 25 pounds (most of which is taxes, the airline component in 34 pence).

I have two or three days back in Cambridge, before heading to Berlin for two nights/three days with a flatmate.

Then there’s at least two of us, but it could possibly rise to as many as four, who have booked for a three day holiday in Paris in the week before exams commence.

We’re selling it to ourselves as motivation to get the work done early, then take a break and unwind and head back into exams raring to go.

Some have called this sensible, some have said “good idea … but brave”, some have muttered something along the lines of “suicide”.

It’s not like I need to get a first because I’ve applied to stay on for the PhD or anything.

Oh, wait, damn – I have.

… Maybe I should just not be allowed to buy things on line any more. I booked all that travel with a three day window.

PS in other news Christopher Eccleston of "Shallow Grave" and "28 Days Later" is apparently going to play the new Dr Who. I thought Eccleston was amazing as the weirdly deluded army officer in 28 Days, and it'll be really interesting to see what the Beeb does in reviving this childhood favourite.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

(Trafalgar Square 1)

Some days nothing in my nature is decisive. Like Sundays when, after being up much too late on Saturday, I have the energy to eat brunch and listen to Oscar Peterson, but little else. Days of a solitary and meandering mood.

In that vein, I present in no particular order, loose impressions from a fairly random week. Actually, I’ll never cover the week in one go, let’s stick with the last thing I mentioned here …

London with the posse of sociologists. An Australian, a South African, a Canadian and an American wander through Covent Garden looking for somewhere for a coffee and a snack (settling, lord help our lack of imagination, on Prêt a Manger), we turn a corner:

Doug: “Um, would that be Nelson’s column and St Martin-in-the-Fields?”

Recognising things you’ve not seen in twenty-three years is a little disconcerting. I left the sociologists to go to their LSE lecture and stopped in at St Martin’s. A chamber music quartet was rehearsing for a Vivaldi recital, and it was gorgeous.

I drifted through Trafalgar square and photographed the ducks in the fountain. Wandered through a few rooms of the National Gallery to say ‘hi’ to Degas, Rousseau, Cezanne, Seraut and those other dudes of the late nineteenth century I always find kind of comforting.

Wound up at the National Theatre, Southbank, but the returned tickets were out of my price range (much easier to get cheapies over the net, ah well). Diversion was worth it for the view of Big Ben, a cyclops in the night sky, glowering through the ferris-wheel cage of the London Eye. I had always thought the Eye a singularly ugly and awful affliction upon the Thames riverside, but lit at night, towering over the windswept concrete blocks of Southbank it was beautiful.

Glass-fronted restaurants with starchy high-albedo tablecloths populated converted spaces under railway arches. I had a brief pang for the corporate solicitor’s life, but only briefly.

Wound up at the Royal Court watching the excellent “Ladybird” (by Vassily Sigarev) – a play about modern Russia. The characters seemed to fall out into three types: those adapted to the new Russia, essentially predators; the elderly (mostly killed by the young); and the rest, being brutalised, callous, but somehow innocently naive and optimistic. Strangely moving and uplifting. Strong performances and interestingly written characters. At first it was slightly amusing to hear English actors speaking in the British local-accent equivalent of their Russian characters, but in a world where Sean Connery can command a Russian submarine, it wasn’t a big adaptation to make.

On a tangent, provided the voice for the Viceroy of Portugal in a recent recorded version of “The Spanish Tragedy” done for a college drama society. Was asked by the director to re-do part of one speech with longer “a” sounds in some words like “chance”. My Australian “ahh” in “chaan-sss”, was (for a radio-style production) proving a little too much of a contrast to the surrounding BBC RP accents, so I did it again putting an “aar” in my “chaarn-sss” – and managed to suppress the urge to giggle.

The alternative, I suppose, would have been asking the “Portuguese” characters to sound more Australian. No-one else seemed to think this a terribly sensible suggestion.

(PS grossly overdue Naylor is up.)

(Trafalgar Square 2)

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Every damn day, I pack like it was a trip to the Antarctic

I’m going to London this afternoon on an impulse with flatmates who are going down for a talk or workshop in sociology. Am planning on rocking up to a few theatres at the 6.30 mark and seeing whether there are stand by tickets or returns for anything I’m interested in seeing. Not much of a plan, but need to get out of town for part of the day.

So I know the contents of my backpack and overcoat pockets for this little venture will include:
wallet, keys, mobile (obvious stuff);

digital camera (remember to change batteries and memory card);

iPod (check battery charge before leaving, lament loss of one fuzzy earpiece cover);


muesli bar, piece of chocolate, fruit;

snack dinner for consumption in a park (chicken risotto);

novel (for tube and periods of waiting);

guidebook, train timetable, tube-map;

gloves, beanie, scarf; and

my collapsible travel umbrella (if not lost by my flatmate at the drinks reception for Prince Charles at Trinity on Monday, where we behaved, of course, impeccably, did not drink too much and certainly did not repair to the King’s bar afterwards, and did not round off the evening with G&Ts in the kitchen).

Now where did I leave the damn husky dogs?

In other news, caught up yesterday with Melbourne blogger Michael on his whistle-stop in Cambridge as he shuttles about catching up with friends, family and generally seeking employment as part of the great Aussie invasion of the green and pleasant land.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Only in my household …

I have a habit of only holding conversation with one particular flatmate (a fellow lawyer) when either he or I are about to leave the house. Yesterday morning he was on his way out as I was making my porridge and black coffee.

He (eyeing my two volumes of breakfast reading): “Milton and international criminal law. Odd combination.”

Me: “Not a great respecter of humanitarian law, Satan. More than the odd breach of the laws of internal armed conflict during the revolt in heaven.”

He (exiting through kitchen door): “Ah, but as Prince of Hell, would he have immunity from prosecution as a head of state?”

Me: “Unless it had been specifically abrogated by treaty. Have a good day!”

Monday, March 15, 2004

Another frantic end-of-term

Right, yes, last week got a bit busy didn’t it?

Saturday 6th, the promotional jumpers for the play were distributed at rehearsal: bright red, hooded and groovy. Have been more or less living in mine since.

Sunday 7th, got in from a drink or two and decided it would be a good thing to distract my Italian flatmate from his dinner party and get him to shave my head. We’d been talking about it for a while and took the final decision with only a few eyebrow motions and hand-gestures.

Monday 8th, was informed by many people they liked the new hair (but thought it, the hooded jumper and black leather jacket was perhaps making a bit of a statement).

Tuesday 9th, the Grantchester experience, and a first meeting for the radio-play project I’m doing this week. Went afterwards to stand-up comedy and for a drink at the Eagle with the director.

Wednesday 10th, attended rehearsal in black tie before going to Lent Term dinner.

Thursday 9th, stumbled into a 9 am class, went home and napped, went to an utterly surreal play (Saint-Genet’s, “The Balcony”), a friend’s birthday drinks and wound up drinking red wine until midnight with debater’s in someone’s rooms at Trinity.

Friday 10th, had a verse-speaking and radio-play workshop for next week’s recording of “The Spanish Tragedy”, the Italian flatmate’s visiting mother cooked us a three course meal (saffron rice, pollo alla Romano, marinated strawberries with brown sugar and cream), and went to the Anchor for last drinks.

Saturday 11th, play rehearsal, Bun Shop brunch, spontaneous punting with people from the play (where on the River we found many an actor who had ducked rehearsal … ).

Sunday 12th, a lazy day, capped off with one quick drink with the law grads at The Mitre (followed by an overdue call to the family).

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I and a select one thousand other people are off to meet Prince Charles.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

“Letter to a celebrity” (an entry for )

Dear Mr Clooney

I think a human being is made interesting by their irrational prejudices.

One of mine is against you.

Yes, I know, perhaps an international lawyer should really prioritise war criminals, holocaust deniers, terrorists, the architects of US foreign policy or people who kick puppies.

But, some time ago, I assigned you – with good cause - the title of “the ineffably smug George Clooney” and the crown of being my least favourite actor. My ostensible reason at the time was that – well, you really do only ever play one character don’t you? It's alway just pure Clooney: invariably smug and swaggering, if occasionally with a cutesy Southern accent.

However, some of my favourite actors of the black-and-white/early colour era have this same lack of range, Humphrey Bogart or Jimmy Stewart to take two at random. Bogart, the only man alive capable of generating Raymond-Chandler-esque film noir sex appeal despite being saddled with a first name more at home in the post-World War I British Foreign Office (“I say, Humphrey, could we no move the borders of Turkey a bit to the left? I think the Kurds will be much happier over in Persia, don’t you, Bumps, old chap?”) Stewart, who despite a homespun charm that could have just become irritating, managed under Hitchcock to express a kind of suburban dread which Grant could never summon.

So why, Mr Clooney do I chose to pillory you?

I still haven’t seen “Three Kings”, for which you’ve generally been praised. I enjoyed “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”, “Ocean's Eleven”, “Intolerable Cruelty” and “From Dusk ‘Till Dawn”.

But let’s face it, in one of the greatest lines of cinema review of the 1990s, you were indeed the George Lazenby of the Batman series.

Yeah, sure it’s a comic book film. But you signed on for the second Schumaker disaster – it’s not as if there was no forewarning of just how awful it would be. Sure, the prospect of snogging Uma Thurman would warp the judgement of many a better man than I but - while honestly anything would have been an improvement on Val Kilmer - even the arch campness of Adam West would have been preferable to your self-congratulatory swagger. The first two Burton films were fun, dark and creepy - if ridiculous.

You, however, were merely (and unforgiveably) ridiculous. All your acting said was: “Yup, I’m a lot cooler than you. Because, me, I’m George Clooney. You? You are not George Clooney. See anyone else on screen who’s George Clooney? Nope. It’s just me. I, Clooney. Cooler. Than. You.”

And that’s pretty much all I ever find in your acting.

On the other hand, you have had the grace to say: “Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind bombed. But I can take it. Most of the films I've done haven't done particularly well. I'm surprised I'm continuing to work.”

As I said, I have to concede, on reflection, I like everything else I’ve seen you in.

So I am, with astonishing generosity, prepared to lay down the hatchet, the bazooka, the blow-torch.

You will, forever, remain “the ineffably smug George Clooney”, but I imagine I will actually go and see (despite my better judgement) “Oceans 12”, if it survives pre-production.

George, I'm extending the olive branch here. I hope you chose to take it.



Thursday, March 11, 2004

(flatmates at the Lent Term dinner, one freshly sheared)

End of term dinner

I think attending rehearsal in black tie would count as one of the more odd moments of my time in Cambridge.

I felt rather like a stage magician entering a room full of jeans-clad thespians in my DJ, bow tie and waistcoat. Still at least one other girl had a formal dinner to go to immediately after as well.

The dinner itself was lovely: probably too much champagne, wine and port, but good company and great fun.

Which is perhaps more than could be said for my mood at the history and theory seminar at 9 am the next morning …

(More soon, rehearsing again.)

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

“I confess …” (an entry for )

I finally did it.

This is a vaguely embarrassing confession.

After five months living in Cambridge, I finally made it to Granchester.

Granchester. The village that’s a mere 40 minutes by foot up the Cam. Famous as a favoured hangout of Russel, Wittgenstein, Plath, those sorts of people.

Oh, and Lord Jeffrey Archer lives there. Apparently.

I woke late (without going into details, a committee, a new constitution, beer and a midnight full English breakfast with flatmates was involved) and decided to take the day off and cycle upstream. (Not literally, my cycling trousers are not entirely waterproof.)

Naturally, I got lost. The pedestrian tow-path runs into a fen nature reserve, barred to cyclists. It took a fair bit of map-jiggering to get back on track.

To get to Granchester involves passing through the English countryside. I mean, The English Countryside. You expect to see James Herriot elbow-deep in a calving cow or Constable at his easel at every turn.

A robin red-breast nearly flew into my face when I startled it from a tangle of bramble, green and yellow spring fields beside the ambling Cam, that kind of thing.

(Apparently in Granchester, they still call it The Granta.)

Anyway, it made my realise that Cambridge can get a bit claustrophobic in a way a big city doesn’t, just because it is so small. The open air did me a power of good, except on the way back when the wind was in my face not at my back, when it just sliced right through me.

Granchester’s a pretty village, where almost every building is named: “The Old Vicarage”, “The Old School”, “The Old Master’s House”, “Balls Park”, that kind of thing. It also had some good pub signs, and faded out into farms and horse-stables fairly quickly.

The main attraction is meant to be afternoon tea in The Orchard, which, frankly, has the sole attraction of being out-of-doors and leafy and green. (One could just as easily go to the Botanic Gardens). Still, all very pretty, a pleasant little two-hour trip and another New Thing.

There are some other recent New Things. I’m going to do a radio play read-through tonight, and I – well – sorry, Mum – shaved my head on Sunday night. But that’s another story.

So, I took a day off work. When I cleared my e-mail I found a very brief note from my supervisor. She thinks my dissertation is done except for the tidying and there’s no need to meet again unless I have questions.

Golly. It’s not due for another seven weeks …

Sunday, March 7, 2004

Almost history, certainly Cambridge

In 1646 (or near enough as makes no odds) the Civil War reached quiet Cambridge, Cromwell’s horses were stabled in King’s Chapel and the Parliamentarians grabbed most of the colleges silver. Somehow, Trinity Hall, almost uniquely, came away with its silver intact. We are now able to present, almost from original sources, the negotiations that may have transpired (just about) ...

The Master of Trinity Hall sits at a table, in a ruff, reading papers. The desk is covered in a cloth. Enter Cromwell.

Cromwell: “Right, the Bursar wasn’t in, so they sent me up here. If you’re the Master of Trinity Hall, I’m here about –”

Master: “It’s closed.”

Cromwell: “I beg your pardon?”

Master: “My door is closed.”

Cromwell: “Not since I opened it.”

Master: “My door is closed. This is my research time. There is a clear note affixed to the door by means of a stout tack detailing student consultation times.”

Cromwell: “Have you got any idea who you’re talking to? I am Oliver Cromwell!”

The Master looks up at Cromwell.

Master: “Not a student then?”

Cromwell: “Not recently. I’m here about the silver.”

Master: “What do you mean, you’re here about the silver?”

Cromwell: “Have you been listening? My name is Oliver Cromwell.”

Master: “Yes, and I’m the master of Trinity Hall. Now, what silver are you referring to, young man?”

Cromwell: “I’m here to collect the college silver.”

Master: “I wasn’t aware you’d been hired to clean it.”

Cromwell: “Noooo. I’m not here to clean it. More – confiscate it.”

Master: “Confiscate the silver? But the president’s cup alone is worth hundreds of ducats! It was a gift from the Pope!”

Cromwell: “I’m not sure you’ve really grasped the implications of what’s going on here. I’m Oliver Cromwell.”

Master: “And?”

Cromwell: “Commander of the New Model Army? Lord Protector? Ring any bells …?”

Master: “Oliver Cromwell?”

Cromwell: “Yes.”

Master: “Cromwell? Cromwell, sounds familiar … ”

Cromwell: “Look, if you could just fork over the silver then, I’ll be going. I have a Civil War to run, the New Model Army to pay, Parliament to reform and it’s not going to happen without cash. The King’s Court has retreated to Oxford and now is the moment to press our advantage.”

Master: “Oxford? The King’s in Oxford you say? Well, I have to admit that’s news to me … Oxford? Well! Perhaps monarchy isn’t such a good idea after all.”

Cromwell: “That is rather why there’s a civil war on.”

Master: “Cromwell! Yes, I remember you now!”

Cromwell: “Sweet merciful Mary and Magdelene, the light finally dawns!”

Master: “You were at Sidney Sussex, weren’t you?”

Cromwell (through gritted teeth): “Yes!”

Master: “Well, don’t you think you should approach your own college for funding first?”

Cromwell: “No, you’re just not listening. I’m head of the New Model Army! I’m not a student, I’m not applying for post-doctoral research. I’m Lord Protector! My army is out there, right under your bloody window! We’re off to attack Oxford this afternoon. I am, if need be, by force of arms, confiscating your bloody silver in the name of Parliament, freedom and the Commonwealth of England!”

Master (peering out the window): “Good lord! Is that your army?”

Cromwell: “Impressive isn’t it?”

Master: “Impressive? It’s outrageous. It’s unbelievable! They’re … they’re standing on the fellow’s lawn! … Wait! Did you say - attack Oxford?”

Cromwell: “Yes!”

Master: “Well that sounds promising. Attack Oxford, eh? Well, I know you’re not a member of the college but … (conspiratorially) if you don’t mention it to the bursar … I could probably get you a travel grant.”

Cromwell: “Look you jumped up fart in a cassock and frilly shirt, could you concentrate just long enough to join us over here in the seventeenth century? Listening? Excellent. Let’s start with the basics, shall we? In case you hadn’t noticed there’s a bit of a civil war on and … I … am … Oliver … Cromwell. Yes? I run the country. I’m here to take you silver. Now give it to me before I have your extremities and appendages ground down and fed to my horse.”

Master: “Um, no.”

Cromwell: “No? No? I’ve got the bleeding New Model Army under your window! What the Cam-punting kind of an answer is no?”

Master: “Well, we can’t give you the silver. We’ve … um … mislaid it.”

Cromwell: “You’re the smallest college in Cambridge. You’ve got a tree takes up a quarter of the available space. How in the name of apostle-buggery do you mislay the silver?”

Master: “Well, the Bursar told me he’d sent it elsewhere for safe keeping. But we’re involved in a bit of contractual wrangling with service-provider. They won’t tell us where they’re keeping it until we pay up.”

Cromwell: “Where in the name of Beelzebub’s morning bile and bowel movement is this Bursar? You’ve hidden him haven’t you?”

Master: “Don’t be ridiculous.”

Cromwell: “Right, I’ve had enough of this. Just tell me where he’s sent it to.”

Master: “Rome.”

Cromwell: “Rome?”

Master: “Yes, it’s with a chap called Bernini. Went and got himself made pope, though. Makes things rather difficult.”

Cromwell: “The Pope?”

Master: “Well, you try asking the Vicar of God for your silver back, see how far you get. It’s no fun negotiating a contract with a man who’s infallible, I can tell you.”

Cromwell: “Demon-spunk gargling son of a Babylonian strumpet! And the Bursar?”

Master: “At the Vatican. Fact-finding.”

Cromwell: “You simpering, flatulent, gnat-witted, simian-faced, goat-pizzled, priest-poking, choirboy squeezing, idolatrous, mendacious, parricidal, pustulous, bursting excrescent carbuncle upon the foul and wizened nether cheeks of Satan!”

Cromwell storms out.

Master (calling after him): “Good luck laying waste to Oxford! Sew some salt into the fields for me!”

Master (peering under the cloth on his table): “It’s alright, Bursar. I think he just about bought it.”

Friday, March 5, 2004

Just so wrong ...

There's a lot that's being said about Gibson's "The Passion of Christ", and frankly just about everything worth saying about why one might take the unusual stance of objecting to something you have no intention of seeing has been said with more intelligence, articulateness and research than I could muster by Lyn at her film site.

(And a hurrah to Lyn for breaking out into her own blogs after a fine run of comments and guest writing here and at fridaysixpm. Beth, the blogosphere owes you for another initiate.)

However, I am still having serious trouble, even as a mere tepid agnostic, with the movie tie-in merchandise - or specifically the nail pendants.

It raises an intersting point though - why isn't a nail as powerful a Christian symbol as the crucifix? Perhaps because, like Gibson's film, it's just a little too starkly violent? It strikes me as elevating the violence of the crucifixion over any message of sacrifice, tolerance, faith or non-violent civil disobedience.

I suppose that is Gibson's basic intent: he is not particularly interested in telling a story about the values and ideas for which Christ was put to death, he is interested in making a deeply viseceral statement about the manner of that death.

I have to say that I find the idea of using our society's perverse relationship with cinematic violence for evangelical ends quite disturbing.

PS Freshly squeezed pulp noir

New Naylor is up for the week. Elliot finally gets a drink, but very little good news.

Thursday, March 4, 2004

More law school conversations

Lecturer, opening a seminar: “You’ll have to forgive me if I’m a little slow this morning. I was at a terribly alcoholic dinner last night.”

Doug: “Is there any other kind in Cambridge?”

Lecturer: “What? Oh, right. Well, they brought out two bottles of port after dinner. Ridiculous, really. American students are always rather shocked by how much we drink over here, because of course over there they’re not allowed to drink in public until some ludicrously late age. Which is why, of course, they spend so much time in their fraternity houses.

“Now, this week’s readings …”


Friend to Doug: “I was speaking with one of the fellows at my college. Apparently after senior combination room dinners they sometimes take a few bottles of wine down into the chapel crypt. There’s some tomb of an old fellow where you can slide the cover back and sit around the edge toasting the bones of departed academics.”

Doug: “Hmmm. If you slipped and fell in, do you think it’d be grave desecration?”

Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Law and black humour (… because it’s the only kind available)

Doug to Lecturer: “So, I’ve been thinking about genocide –”

Lecturer: “As you do of a morning.”

Doug: “Well, it is my favourite international crime.”

Lecturer: “It’s the king of crimes.”

Doug: “If you’re going to start somewhere as an international criminal, it might as well be the top.

“But seriously, isn’t there a problem with the ICC Elements of Crimes on Genocide, in that the Elements require the acts be committed as part of widespread and systematic pattern, while under the Genocide Convention a single murder would be enough if the offender’s intent was to kill the racial group in whole or in part.

“I mean you could have a situation where the guy confess to someone down the pub later that that had been his intent.

“So isn’t a widespread or systematic pattern better seen as constituting evidence making it easier to infer the accused’s state of mind in the absence of a confession, rather than a formal element of the crime?”

Lecturer: “Yeah, I’d say that’s right. The pub confession point is right on the mark. The problem is that the Elements of Crimes reflect the judgements in the Yugoslav Tribunal, which frankly, weren’t always that good on this stuff in the early days.”

If you thought whether a single act of murder could constitute genocide was a purely academic issue, I’d have to say, “Yup, you’re right.” But this is the stuff I spend my days worrying about. Speculating about the legal possibility of a lone genocidal maniac. Proof, yet again, of the parallel moral universe lawyers inhabit …

I have fed you, you are my tribe

Cooking for others was a bit of theme of last week. Tuesday I was a one-man factory at a college Day of the Dead/Shrove Tuesday pancake festival (oh … okay, there was some other talented help in the end) and Thursday I cooked for half the flatmates and a couple of college friends I’d not seen for a while.

Rather bizzarely, I heard the words “Doug, you’re a saint” quite often on Tuesday. I mean, sure I was slaving over a hot stove, but others pitched in to help – once I learned to relinquish the spatula.

Still, it left me with this image of myself in stained glass: a thin man in a brown-hooded robe, brandishing a frying pan benignly at his acolytes. (Rather less certain about the life of poverty and chastity, but I suppose saints still get to drink, right? Although, come to that, a simple, single life of quiet contemplation and study, having renounced the ways of the world (excepting wine and ale), sounds a spookily apt summation of graduate study.)

Thursday night I made my creamy chicken pasta in a tomato sauce with onion and capsicum, than all former flatmates will know and hopefully recall fondly. It seemed as popular as pancakes.

Other people brought cheese and salad, and one person prepared a truly awesome little fruit plate for dessert. (What were those bright yellow things the size of cherry tomatoes called? They were yummy. Especially with crème fraiche and honey.)

I am finding, or rediscovering, how much I like cooking for people. We are terribly lucky to have such a homey kitchen in student accommodation. There is something that fosters a real sense of community about sitting down to a meal around a kitchen table.

Nearly as much a sense of community as staggering in at the end of a long Friday night at the same time as a flatmate and deciding that a late night full English breakfast and gossip-swap over peppermint tea is in order.

Anyway, my culinary endeavours have not gone unnoticed. Thursday someone wrote a plea on the kitchen whiteboard for those staying in the house during the day to remove their washing at the end of the spin cycle and put it in the drier – even pledging to buy the good Samaritan a drink. I made the same request Friday, underneath someone scrawled:

“But what about the free drink?”

To which I wrote in reply: “Isn’t it enough I feed you?”

A third hand added: “And how!”

A fourth: “How? I’m curious?”

While a fifth concluded: “Wonderfully and fulsomely!”

So, there we have it. The first review of my cooking in print.

Monday, March 1, 2004

Who says constitutional drafting need be humourless?

I only wish I had had a hand in drafting this gem for our new Middle Combination Room (college graduate society) constitution and electoral procedures:

“10. 21 In the case of a tied result for a position, the tied candidates should meet to discuss the result and see if they can come to a mutually satisfactory agreement. If the candidates cannot reach an agreement, the candidates have the option of breaking the tie by a coin toss or by asking to rerun the elections for that position. If a coin toss is held, it will occur on the South East lawn of the Front Court of Trinity Hall as soon as reasonably possible. All candidates in the coin toss will be attired in formal clothes and academic dress.”

Ah Cambridge, when no tradition exists, just invent it.

“If this is your first time at Fight Club …”

It seems at a range of 10 metres I have about 80% accuracy in hitting a 10 cm square target and can get about one in five shots within the black centre of the target. I even managed three nine- or ten-point bull’s-eyes.

Mostly I had a quiet weekend, but Sunday I managed to something I’d never done before.

I went air-pistol target shooting.

Yup, boys and guns.

Not that I’m the kind of person who wakes up of a winter’s morning saying: “You know, I want to learn how to shoot stuff.” However, it seems I am the type who – when a flatmate (and president-elect of the student pistol and rifle club) asks of a Sunday evening “Hey do you guys want to come target shooting?” – will reply, “Why not?”

Frankly, the weirdest bit of the experience was finding the range. We drove out past the Grafton centre towards the Ring Road and the light-industrial strip of panel-beaters, tyre salesmen and mechanics’ workshops towards the Cam, aptly clustering around the looming plinth of the technology museum smokestack.

We parked in a tiny set of parking bays next to the Elizabeth Road overpass bridge and walked down, in the dark, to the tunnel leading under the bridge. It was one of those graffitied abandoned spaces with jaundiced low-watt electric lights a succession of sturdy doors set into the concrete. The one we stopped at had a piece of yellow card pinned to the lintel with a name and mobile phone number on it.

My flatmate unlocked the door and fumbled inside for a light-switch. I followed him into a fluorescently lit corridor of cinderblock walls and wooden partitions, a crude ramp leading to a rough concrete floor.

“Welcome to Fight Club,” I muttered.

The empty clubroom (pool table, chairs, kitchenette, green carpet squares) concealed beyond another door was functional but looked surprisingly little like a cavern beneath a bridge. After signing in as guests, a brief tour collapsed when, at the end of several further corridors (cold, flickering lights, randomly placed lockers and lockable cabinets) no-one could find the light-switch for the final passage to the twenty-yard range. I suggested we turn back before I convinced myself we were on the set of a horror movie. (Thety were totally that sort of darkened passages full of steel-cabinet clutter.)

We went back to the ten-metre range visible through a long window in the club room.

It was terribly, terribly cold. Bar heaters did not make much of an impact on the big bare concrete space.

It was interesting. The small crack of the compressed-air pistols, the ping when a shot went too high and caught the metal frame above the targets. The whir of the little electric pulleys that take the small card-targets out and back. Learning the discipline of it: feet at 45 degree, close one eye move shoulders to 90 degrees with wall, sight along shoulder, bring arm up, try and get the wavering halves of the sights to meet up in one neat rectangle against the blurred image of the target, squeeze with light pressure.

The flatmate told me I did fairly well for a fist time.

Not saying I’m a convert mind you, but I enjoyed it more than I’d expect, and the air pistols – while expensive – are a long way short of deadly weapons (though we were solemnly instructed on safety measures and the fact that if our weapons could kill a rat, they could certain hurt us).

I think I may put my pocked target-cards up on the back of my door.

Still, someone was talking about joining the fencing club next term. That might be more my scene.