Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Un-American activities

I wonder if I'm randomly searched at Dulles and my copy of Phillipe Sands "Lawless World: American and the making and breaking of global rules" is found in my hand-luggage whether that will constitute grounds for being summarily deported?

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Fun days in international law

"It's great that the law of the sea has got exciting again."

These were the words of a senior academic to me on Tuesday, on discovering that several PhD students working on law of the sea issues had trotted down to London for a symposium on the law of the sea. For a field with a dry, technical reputation the place was - as academic affairs go - buzzing.

WMD proliferation, terrorism, the environment, fisheries disputes have all put the law of the sea back on the agenda in terms of issues with a lot of political currency and academic interest. Of course, it's symptomatic of law that "interesting" usually equates to - "things may go badly wrong sometime soon."

On average, the papers were very good. Presentation quality, though, was variable. Some academics do not make the greatest public speakers.

Anyway, as much as anything it was good to make a few connections, both with senior academics and peers. Similarly, about a month ago I went to a highly informative round table session on the Proliferation Security Initiative at Chatham House - where I was, I think, able to participate in a discussion with academics and other lawyers without coming across as a moron.

And on Tuesday I'm off to the intellectual theme-park that is the American Society of International Law conference in Washington DC for a week. While I'm over there it also looks like I'll be interviewing lawyers in US government agencies who work in my field - and having a supervision meeting in the conference venue lobby to discuss my term's work with my supervisor.

The level of weird in my life just keeps rising.

PS Went punting again today. And watched the new Dr Who episode as it went to air with another Australian brought up on that heady Tom Baker vintage.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Spearing a bike while punting Posted by Hello

Sunday, March 20, 2005

A fine three-day weekend

When you’ve suffered through a five month British winter, even when you did get to go home for Christmas, even when you’ve promised your supervisor a frankly silly amount of work by Monday – nothing is going to keep you indoors when the mercury hits 17c and the sky is pristine blue, like the shrink wrapping just came off.

So, I cheerfully threw my Friday away and got myself out into the sun – snapping some photos included over here under “End of Lent Term”. By far the best moment came with bumping into another couple of sun-delirious Aussie international lawyers. One had just finished applying for research exchange programs to the States, the other had just finished a term’s teaching and had booked a week’s lastminute.com skiing in Austria.

We sat at the riverside near Magdelene college and watched a guy accidentally spear a bike on the bottom of the Cam with his punt pole and drag it up from the weedy depths.

I had Jasmine and Peter up for the weekend from London, and despite abandoning them for a few hours on Friday to go to a formal dinner at Downing, we had a fine old time in Cambrige.

Besides, they gave me a long awaited excuse to tackle a 1999 Royal Hungarian Tokaji I’d been saving for a special occasion (never has a dessert wine been so smooth and apricot-y). For double the fun, we even teamed up with some friends of my sister’s over from Oxford for some Saturday punting action.

I didn’t spear any bicycles, but got us without mishap through an hour of tourist-fuelled mayhem on the river. We were rammed once by an undergrad punting a whale of a barge of a punt, but everyone stayed in the punt, including, happily the guy attached to the punt pole – me.

As always, there was some poor Japanese dude, first time in a punt, at 90 degrees to the current and the traffic just prodding about helplessly with the punt pole while his girlfriend looked amused. I tell you, there's one every sunny summer weekend day.

We happy three also got through a hit-parade of Colleges, pubs and ducked through King’s Chapel and the Fitzwilliam Museum, and more or less rounded off the weekend in Cambridge with an outstanding pub lunch at the Free Press, one of the few non-smoking pubs in Cambridge.

Anywhere three people can have two courses and wine for £40 is great by me, especially when the lamb shank portions are so huge Jasmine had to declare defeat.

Very full of food and sleepy now, time for some West Wing DVDs and an early night.

Hopefully, tomorrow will be a fabulous day for international law: I’m certainly well rested and gloriously fortified for it. If it's sunny again though, my productivity may be ruined. (My flatmates have been checking sites obsessively: weather.com is picking rain; bbc.co.uk/weather is backing sun. Go figure.)

Monday, March 14, 2005

Leaving the house for a 1920s Jeeves and Wooster party, Sunday Posted by Hello

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Keys and porters, once again

So I lost my keys on Wednesday. I’d just been to Oddbins on Kings Parade with a friend to buy a bottle to take to the Blind Wine Tasting Society Annual Dinner (it was super, thanks for asking) – unlocked my bike, cycled down the Road to King’s, unlocked my lock, looped my lock through front wheel and frame and went into the King’s café.

Forty minutes later – no keys and a stationary bike. I checked, neither Porters nor café staff had seen them. So I wheeled my bike (on it’s back wheel only) round to college. It had gone five and the workshop was closed. The Porter’s bolt cutters had weary old blades that came about 2 mm short of meeting in the middle – making it impossible to completely slice the cable core of my lock.

So, I dumped it, mutilated lock and all in North Court, borrowed a gown and went to grad hall in turtle-neck and cords. (I had a guest, a lawyer from Queensland who did the LLM with me last year. We were joined in the bar afterwards by two medics. Three words: very messy night.)

The next day I finally managed to catch one of the maintenance guys in the workshop as opposed to out on call. The workshop is through an old stairwell, round a corner, down three flights of stairs and through a cage door. Getting my bike down there – less than super fun.

Seeing a maintenance dude sever those last 2 mil of cable with an angle grinder: fun. Orange sparks everywhere and a safety briefing amounting to: “You probably shouldn’t look straight at this.” Then a ride back up to the garage in the maintenance lift. (Thanks for telling me earlier.)

Oh, and my bike now has a combination lock.

On seeing the new lock one friend said: “Aren’t you afraid of it getting stolen now you have a thinner lock?”

“My bike is basically a mouldering piece of crap,” I replied. “I doubt anyone’s going to want it that much.”

“I thought it was your trusty steed.”

“Oh it is. I just have no illusions that my trusty steed is anything other than a mouldering piece of crap.”

At which point she offered to sell me her bike when she leaves in the Summer. Farewell, trusty steed.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Dr Who and class

Most of the actors playing the Doctor played a slightly foppish eccentric, who if not exactly an aristocrat, certainly had an RP accent and a distinct belief that the rules did not apply him.

One of the delightful things about Christopher Eccleston’s Doctor (yes, I’ve cheated and seen the new episode) is that he has a Northern accent. In his really interesting interview on the BBC website he displays a great sensitivity towards the show’s place in UK culture. He talks about the innocence of the time in which the character was born, an innocence in the face of rapid technological change. He also speaks about his own youthful enjoyment of the show as escapism, but feeling distanced as a council-estate kid from the Britain the foppish Doctor moved in. Eccleston also comments that he wanted to portray a Doctor who was neither assertively working class, nor an aristocrat, but somewhere between. (Apt, really, for the outsider the character should be.)

With a very light touch, the new Doctor Who series is negotiating issues of class and reaching out a little more directly to the child Eccleston was. The Doctor’s new companion, Rose (Billy Piper) is an assertive, self-confident girl who’s left school without A-levels. She lives with her mother (no visible Dad), works in a department store and has a black boyfriend.

In a gorgeous moment she asks why, if the Doctor’s an alien, he has a Northern accent. “Plenty of planets have a North,” comes the reply. Not only does the Doctor now have a regional accent, he has relatively unremarkable (even faintly cool) dress sense. Eccleston in his leather jacket is going to be the first Doctor since Pertwee to completely spurn a hat, and could actually walk down Oxford Street and catch the tube without anyone batting an eyelid.

The initial episode, or the edit of it circulating the internet, has some problems. The incidental music is heavy-handed, the special effects variable, the sense of humour occasionally far too slapstick. However, it has an exuberant sense of fun, and some genuinely creepy moments. It honours the old show, without being subservient. It brings back that sense that the real world is a strange place, that at any moment an eccentric seeming-Englishman might burst from a flimsy wooden blue box and transport us into a dangerous world of adventure.

I’m rather looking forward to it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2005

Back from the trenches

The play ended Saturday, and I’m still tired. Also, I’m realising how many things I foolishly said “yes” to, on the basis that they were in that infinite expanse of time marked “after the play”. So, this week I have two graduate halls (Wednesday, Thursday), a cast reunion (Friday), possibly a house party (Friday), the blind wine tasting society annual dinner (Saturday) and a Jeeves and Wooster themed gathering to read Wodehouse (Sunday).

I’ve also organised a “people’s direct action committee for cake”, to see that it is possible on Thursday’s at 4 pm to eat cake in graduate common room in college. So yes, still tired, still shaking my second (third?) cold of term and still procrastinating.

I did, foolishly, attempt some research today. After spending a few hours writing in the morning my afternoon consisted primarily of an hour spent chasing down a footnote to an irrelevancy.

This took me to that place where all good intentions go to die, the University Library. I understand the Bodleian Library at Oxford is a marvel of architecture. The Cambridge UL is a marvel of hideousness and was used as the exterior of the Ministry of Truth in a French TV production of “1984”. (True.)

The bookstacks are of the ugly metal shelving cabinet variety, and have very narrow spaces between. There are ugly green carpet squares on the floor, and lights on timer dials one can never find. In the South Front section of the building the actual corridors at the head of stacks are so narrow it is only possible to sit across the short side of a table while consulting a book.

Admittedly, there are some nice reading nooks on the ground floor and the rare books room is pretty. But the main stacks – claustrophobia, seventies archival ugliness and the pervasive smell of dust.

In addition, the e-catalogue is not entirely reliable pre-1978. The old catalogue consists of huge books with tiny slips of paper pasted in in three columns and runs to hundreds of volumes. I kid you not.

Some people complain about the modernity of the law library: bring it on I say.

Thursday, March 3, 2005

The Home Front

Rifle drill (me far left) Posted by Hello

My flatmates rock. They threw me flowers at curtain call tonight: tulips and lilies. They kind of caught me in the head, but never mind.

The front two rows of stage right were college friends. A trifle intimidating, but the Americans loved the “Texan pirate” accent I attempt for my American role.

Anyway, some extremely good photos from the play are now up over here. I can’t claim credit for them, they were taken by a photographer for one of the two student papers here. The one of me sitting and reading featured in today’s rather favourable review. I was praised for my “confidence”, though my name was misspelled.

What is it they say about publicity?

For those who don’t know “Oh What A Lovely War!” it’s a musical satire of the first world war (and implicitly, all war) but is framed as an end-of-the-pier Edwardian pierrot show (hence the clown outfits), which becomes more militaristic and dark as it progresses.
News from the Front

"Oh What A Lovely War!", despite a major last minute crisis, is playing to full houses and an amazing reception from audiences. We’re two nights down and three to go.

The rewards of sacrificing up to 12 or 15 hours a week on rehearsal over the last 5 or 6 weeks are becoming wonderfully apparent as the show goes off each night largely without a hitch.

The hideous crisis, though, was that we’re doing a musical with live piano and drums accompaniment and the night of the technical rehearsal our pianist fell really ill. By the next morning he’d been hospitalised with sort of stomach infection, the poor guy.

As a friend of the director and producer, I spent the morning of the dress rehearsal frantically e-mailing musicians (then friends of friends of musicians) while they chased around Cambridge. Eventually I got an ad out on a musicians’ e-mail list – and we found someone who knew the piano score for the show already, so all was well.

And the show really has come together. The liveliness of the Edwardian popular songs and comedy in the first half are going over really well in the intimate (and very oddly shaped) space of the Corpus Playroom, and contrasting nicely with the much darker humour of the second half.

It’s also fabulous that we’d sold out the run, other than 20 seats on the first night, before the show opened – and not only sold out the first night, but had to turn people away. True, the venue only sits 80 or 90, but over a 5 night run it’s still a big achievement. (Our producer is a PR genius.)

I’m really beginning to relax into my second-half role of Sir Douglas Haig, and have got some praise for my surprisingly convincing “rah rah” toff’s accent. I did come out with an utterly Australian “ab-Zurd” instead of the UK RP “ab-Surd” as a British naval officer on opening night, but otherwise I’m giving the order to “AD-vance” (with a short plosive "a") instead of a drawling “ad-VAH-nce” nicely. My comic accent for the American war profiteer (think John Wayne meets a pirate in Texas) is also playing well.

The cast is amazingly talented, and has bonded really well. We don’t so much whistle as we work (we have 20 minutes to get-out the set and all props before the late show comes in) as sing tunes from the show.

I’m quite exhausted, but loving every bit of it. As with reading Sir Isaac Newton last term, though, I still get a really stupid buzz out of being an Australian in Cambridge playing significant figures from British history.

Revenge of the empire, wot.